Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Persistence clearly pays with petrels!

It's a sobering thought that the natural extinction rate of bird species is, apparently, one in every Century. It's an absolutely alarming prospect to learn that, in the last 30 years, twenty one (21) bird species have been declared extinct! Such provides the motivation behind the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme which currently contains 197 species viewed as Critically Endangered !! That's a truly shocking statistic and sets in context the challenges which modern day conservation faces.

Well, here's a story that bucks the trend and serves to bring hope for the future set against so many depressing stories which emerge!  Enter the New Zealand Storm-Petrel!  This species was considered extinct until 2003 when birds were seen at sea. Three specimens had previously been taken in the 1800's and are nowadays held in museums.

In 2012 24 birds were caught at sea using a specially designed net gun. These sparrow-like birds were then fitted with tiny ( 1 gm ) radio transmitters, which fed back signals to automated receivers. The fact that birds showed incubation patches brought hope that the research would lead to their breeding grounds being discovered. I suspect that no one quite believed that such an area would be within 50 km. of Auckland City!
The received data narrowed the search to the Hauraki Gulf area and the research team stationed themselves on several of the islands concerned. Then, the big break through!  Observers actually saw birds coming inshore and proceeding inland on Little Barrier Island, Hauturu in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Later , a signal was received from a bird clearly located at a stationary site in a forest area.

Such is the significance of this find that automated equipment is being used by the team, led by Chris Gaskin and Matt Raynor, the data from which will feed into a seabird management plan for the Hauraki Gulf area, now quite rightly being described as a globally significant biodiversity hotspot.

Besides several New Zealand based funding sources, the work is being supported by the BirdLife International Community and the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. Congratulations should be offered to all involved for what is an uplifting story of commitment and unselfish support. There are many lessons contained within the "story line" that many politicians throughout the world might take on board and reflect on. Our current Government's attitude in the UK towards conservation  being a necessary partner within development is perhaps at the extreme end of what might best be described as misguided nonsense! Things can change, and for the better, as the above story shows, which underscores why our resolve to gain the best should never waiver.

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