The Hauraki Gulf is home to a threatened population of Spotted Shags, thought to be genetically distinct. Whilst the Spotted Shag is relatively common in other parts of the country, in the Hauraki Gulf the birds are now limited to just two colonies, on Tarahiki and Waiheke Islands, with an estimated population of 300 breeding pairs.
In an attempt to attract Spotted Shags back to the Noises group of islands, a replica colony of Spotted Shags has been installed on the steep cliff face of Otata Island – the largest of the Noises group. The replicas were made from six Spotted Shag specimens in the Auckland Museum’s collection, that were collected by Museum staff from the Noises back in 1913.
The Museum’s specimens have been scanned, 3D printed and painted. As well as the replica birds, nests have been constructed from dried seaweed and a solar-powered sound system installed to transmit bird calls. White paint has been used to mimic the droppings that mark seabird colonies.
Damian Christie from the Aotearoa Science Agency was on hand to film the installation.
You can also watch Auckland Biodiversity ecologist Tim Lovegrove and Auckland Museum’s Matt Rayner take part in an annual survey to monitor the threatened populations of Spotted Shags in the Hauraki Gulf here.
In a dramatic incident in the Gulf last year, about 60 Buller’s Shearwaters ended up on the deck of a cruise ship after being attracted by the vessel’s bright lights. Some of the birds died because they were placed in boxes together and became distressed. Regrettably, 33 died and several were injured.
Since then, the Department of Conservation (DOC) has been consulting with international cruise companies and the NZ Cruise Association on how to keep the birds safe. Advice has now been distributed to cruise ships when they sail into NZ ports.
In advice to ships, DOC urges those on ships to close blinds and curtains on cabin windows, reduce unnecessary exterior lighting, and to try to shield essential external deck lights so they are directed downwards and to reduce light wattage where practical.
“Seabirds are masters of the ocean realm. From tiny storm petrels to great albatrosses, from petrels, shearwaters and gannets to shags and penguins, the sea is where they spend most of their lives – feeding, journeying, resting, socialising. But they remain tied to the land because they have to come ashore to breed. And here, they exert a powerful influence. They’re what biologists call keystone species – they dominate ecosystems, shaping them and linking earth and sea.”
These lines celebrate the seabirds of the Hauraki Gulf and were penned by author and broadcaster Alison Balance from RNZ’s Our Changing World.
Her words open a special video presentation commissioned for the upcoming Across All Realms – Sea, Land & Air seminar about the Gulf’s seabirds.
Northern NZ Seabird Trust, along with the NZ Maritime Museum and Foundation North, is hosting the two-day event in central Auckland this weekend on December 1-2.
If you are involved in restoring islands or mainland sites here in the North, are interested in learning more about these very special creatures, their research and conservation – the Across All Realms – Sea, Land & Air seminar is for you.