I feel extremely lucky to do the work I do and share the lives of some really special birds. I was drawn to seabirds for their mastery of the pelagic world. They are birds that few people get to see, living most of their lives out on the ocean. In Auckland we are lucky to have so many surrounding us in the Hauraki Gulf, breeding on islands and pockets of the mainland that are well enough protected from predators.
It takes a lot of effort to keep seabirds safe in New Zealand. Building fences is not a solution – it’s just one tool in our repertoire, which also includes constant vigilance and hundreds upon hundreds of volunteer hours. And even then, bringing the birds back and helping them find habitat to breed where we can effectively look after them takes effort. Nest-boxes are dug into sun-baked soil, pasture replanted to grow back into suitable seabird real-estate.
In some places it’s harder than others. One of my study sites last year was a small island just off the coast – less than 50m off the coast. Rat eradication there is possible – and it has been done in the past – but it’s just too close to the mainland to stop the rats getting back out there. Even with regular trapping efforts along the coast, it would take a lot more money than is available to keep it pest-free. The Grey-faced petrels there are persisting, they’re a species that is relatively robust to rat presence, but the colony isn’t doing well and fledging rates are low.
Holding a cute fluffy seabird chick in your hands is a special feeling. Not just for the obvious reasons – we all love a good bundle of fluff. But also for what it represents. The lengths we go to in protecting our native fauna. The effort and the drive to restore some balance to these ecosystems that we’ve upturned. The passion that we share for finding out more about these beautiful creatures to we can look after them more effectively.
And that’s something to be positive about.