Northern Kermadecs seabird research
Kermadec petrel, Meyer islands. Photo: Edin Whitehead
March 2018 Kermadecs expedition
Trust team members Chris Gaskin and Edin Whitehead joined the Young Blake Expedition to the Kermadecs (courtesy of the Sir Peter Blake Trust and NZ Navy). This was during a scheduled resupply (OP HAVRE 01/2018) by the navy of the DOC base at Raoul Island.
Following the expedition Chris and Edin prepared a report for the purpose of supporting seabird restoration of Raoul Island. It presents observations made during the expedition, i.e. birds seen in vicinity of Raoul Island and the significance of those observations for seabird restoration; also, boat-based, shoreline surveys of the Herald and Raoul Islands. A number of recommendations are made related to species seen and/or breeding at the Kermadecs.
Chris and Edin were part of large team, one of whom was cartoonist and illustrator Giselle Clarkson. Giselle had worked on Raoul Island with the DOC team - a returning 'Raoulie'.
She is working on some 'observations' from the trip - one delightful observation can be seen here.
Long term research
Proposed seabird research programme for the Northern Kermadec Islands
The aim is to establish a comprehensive research programme for northern Kermadec seabirds, building on the ad hoc study since 2006 by scientists and DOC staff. The programme will provide a detailed long-term examination of total seabird taxonomy, breeding biology, physiology, population dynamics, behavioural ecology and marine foraging ecology, niche partitioning and migration.
By the end of twentieth century the largest island in the Kermadec group, Raoul (2943 hectares), was all but devoid of seabirds. No petrels or shearwaters remained. What must have been one of the world’s great seabird islands had all but been annihilated, millions of birds lost to the ravages of cats and rats following scattered periods of human occupation (Gaskin 2011).
Every restoration island has its own dynamic, in particular the speed and ways in which species recolonise naturally in the wake of the eradication of pests and predators. Monitoring post-eradication changes over the long term must be a high priority, as is understanding the basic breeding biology of many Kermadec seabird species.
But not only what is happening on land. Seabird populations are dependent on a healthy marine ecosystem and, with growing populations in the wake of eradication programmes, there is an imperative to better understand the dynamics at play across the ocean environment, including climate change and fisheries interactions and influences. Seabirds also target productive marine habitats, where they integrate ecological signals, presenting useful biological indicators for understanding variation in marine productivity through space and time. Bird-borne tracking studies for Kermadec seabirds are required to further research seabird foraging and to better understand both seabird ecology and the region’s marine environment (Gaskin 2016).
The Northern NZ Seabird Trust (NNZST), with affiliates, is in the final stages of negotiating an operations plan for working on Raoul Island. The Wildlife Act Authority sets out research targets and methods for ten years from 2018.