Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Albatrosses under increasing threat

A total of 19 out of 22 albatross species are currently considered threatened. Photo / Thinkstock
A total of 19 out of 22 albatross species are currently considered threatened. Photo / Thinkstock

Endangered albatrosses which nest in New Zealand are under increasing threat as they compete with commercial fishing operations in the same waters, University of Canterbury researcher Lorna Deppe says.

New Zealand waters are the breeding grounds for 60 per cent of albatross species worldwide which, Ms Deppe said, means New Zealand has a huge responsibility for the conservation of such species.

The PhD student has spent three years studying the movements of Chatham albatross, Northern Buller's albatross and Northern Royal albatross, all of which are endemic to New Zealand.

"Using geo-locator devices, I was able to track both Chathams and Northern Buller's albatrosses from New Zealand, and I found highest densities of wintering birds in northern Chilean and Peruvian waters, an area known for being one of the world's most productive fishing grounds.

"Since bird and man go for the same resource, this is not necessarily a surprise, but poses a two-way threat: mortality as by-catch in fishing gear and potential depletion of food needed to refuel during winter due to human over-fishing.

It's similar for the Northern Royal albatrosses which winter on the Patagonian shelf in Argentina."

In the last two decades, a better understanding of the movements of seabirds and their habitat requirements, had taken on new urgency, she said.

A total of 19 out of 22 albatross species are currently considered threatened. In some cases, the decline is associated with habitat loss, pollution and the introduction of invasive animals onto nesting islands. However, for most species, the primary threat appears to be increased adult mortality associated with commercial fisheries, Ms Deppe said.

- APNZ

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