By Katherine Clements, DOC Seabird Research and Data Management Volunteer
When my colleague, Science Advisor Igor Debski, and I first heard that Forest & Bird was dedicating its annual Bird of the Year competition to seabirds, we were excited to become involved.
It seemed like a great chance to increase public awareness around crowd favourites, such as the fairy tern, but also an excellent opportunity to highlight some of the lesser recognized seabird species equally deserving of our attention and protection.
When deciding upon a seabird to champion, I personally advocated for albatrosses since they were what brought me over from the US to the lovely shores of New Zealand.
What attracted me the most about these magnificent creatures is that they are some of the world’s most experienced international travellers. Consequently, their conservation presents an interesting challenge. It requires not just the collective action of a single nation but the combined effort of the many nations that these species regularly visit and rely upon. As a result, such seabird species with global foraging ranges have inspired the collaboration of countries to form international groups such as the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, of which New Zealand plays an important role.
So albatross it was.
The question still remained, however, which species of albatross would be our ideal candidate for Seabird of the Year?
Sure, the southern royal albatross has a massive wingspan of 3 metres, but they say that less is more.
We wanted, however, to champion a lesser recognized albatross species that still was of a high conservation concern.
The Salvin’s fits the bill (yes, pun intended).
At first glance, Salvin’s albatross (or Salvin’s mollymawk) might remind you of Sam the Eagle from the Muppets (both have very impressive brows).
They also fly from their breeding grounds in New Zealand to their winter foraging grounds in South America every year (that’s a lot of Airpoints).
Like many other albatross species, however, they are at risk from threats such as commercial fishing bycatch and climate change.
The Salvin’s especially deserves our attention, as very little is known about this critically endangered species. Subsequently, the Department of Conservation is currently engaged in progressing research projects to better understand their population levels and their exact foraging distributions.
DOC is also working on the development of fishery bycatch mitigation solutions with the Ministry for Primary Industries and the fishing industry to lessen the impact felt by this and other seabird species.
Although Igor and I would love to see the Salvin’s albatross claim the title of “Seabird of the Year” (and we are willing to write sonnets and put up posters to prove it), all of the seabirds in the running this year deserve our recognition and our help.
We hope that you take the time to find out more about these amazing species and vote for your favourite seabird (but keep in mind, only one seabird has its own sonnet).