Native Aotearoa birds and lizards closer to extinction

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The hoiho is one of the endangered species. Photo / Supplied

By Maori television

Updated environmental indicators show native marine and terrestrial species are fighting extinction and wetlands continue to disappear, according to Stats NZ.

The latest figures come as New Zealand experiences one of the hottest November on record, which is expected to have a serious impact on marine species, but also, just as two new species of gecko have been discovered in the South Island.

The Stats NZ indicators ‘threat of extinction for native marine species’ and ‘threat of extinction for native terrestrial species’ show trends in populations of particular native marine and terrestrial species, and how secure Aotearoa could be. the point of losing them completely.

“Environmental indicators are essential to get a big picture of what’s going on in our environment,” says Angela Seaton, environmental reporting manager at Stats NZ. “They help us track changes and support decision making.”

According to the indicators, 90% of seabird species, 82% of shorebird species and 94% of reptile species are either threatened with extinction or threatened. In addition, populations of many native species are expected to decline.

Taonga species

The threat of extinction of native marine species also highlights marine species of taonga – those of cultural significance to the Maori – which are threatened with extinction. The partial list of marine taonga species was developed through research and consultation and complements previously published data on freshwater taonga species.

The threat of extinction of native freshwater species was published in June 2021.

Many of New Zealand’s native marine species are found nowhere else in the world. This makes New Zealand a hotspot for marine biodiversity. For example, New Zealand has the largest number of endemic seabirds in the world.

New Zealand’s marine species and their ecosystems also provide food species (facilitating fishing and aquaculture) and supporting cultural opportunities (eg tourism and fishing).

The report notes that the native marine species of taonga have tremendous significance for Maori identity through the whakapapa, who oblige and guide the priorities of the kaitiakitanga.

They play an important role for Maori in understanding the mauri of an ecosystem. The presence or absence of native marine species provides insight into the biodiversity and condition of the mahinga kai.

29 taonga sailors threatened

For shorebird species, population trends indicate that 29% are expected to decline (five of 17); 18% are expected to increase (three out of 17); and 53 percent are not expected to change (nine out of 17).

Stats NZ has identified 29 endangered marine taonga species, of which 18 have populations that are expected to decline; one has a population that is expected to increase; and10 have populations that should not change.

The species of taonga are toroa (five species) and one species each for hoiho, ihu koropuku, Kaikōura tītī, kawau, kōtuku, kūtai, maki, mangō taniwha, matuku moana, popoto, rāpoka, tāiko, tara, tara iti, taranui, tarapirohe, tarapuka, tawaki, terehu, tohorā, tutumairekurai, tūturiwhatu, eastern jumping penguin and pacific white tern.

The increase in water temperature is one of the threats to marine species such as birds.

Last month, New Zealand’s coastal waters warmed again to reach “sea heatwave” conditions – increasing the chances of another major ocean event and scorching days this summer.

Niwa meteorologist Ben Noll said Stuff water temperatures ranged from 1.1 ° C to 1.4 ° C above average in November, with daily surface temperatures of the seas more than 3 ° C above average around western and northern North Island and eastern South Island over the past week.

Graphs / Statistics New Zealand
Graphs / Statistics New Zealand

Heatwave 2017

Sea heatwave conditions, classified when the sea temperature is above the 90th percentile for at least five days, has been observed in the waters off all parts of New Zealand.

It was on par with conditions seen in November 2017, which marked the start of a strange and unprecedented sea heatwave across the country and the Tasman Sea – and helped precipitate the hottest summer on record. in New Zealand.

During this period, air temperatures over the country reached between 1.7C and 2.1C above average, while sea surfaces warmed to between 1.2C and 1.9C above average.

Marine heatwaves are more and more frequent in a warmer climate, with 963 days of marine heatwaves observed in the New Zealand region between 2010 and 2019 against 366 between 2000 and 2009.

Scientists are also warning that marine heat waves will lengthen and intensify as a result of climate change and have severe impacts on ocean ecosystems and the industries that depend on them.

During the 2017-18 event, glaciers melted as some pockets of ocean off the west coast of the South Island warmed to 6 ° C above average, while elsewhere , the mussel beds have suffered cascading losses.

No more lizards

Meanwhile, a skink discovered in Southland’s Mataura Range and a Nelson Lakes gecko are the latest additions to New Zealand’s lizard lineup, Stuff reported.

Genetic testing has confirmed the two new species of lizards based on findings made during the Department of Conservation’s investigations in alpine areas on the South Island last summer.

DoC’s lizard study project leader Dr Jo Monks said intensive studies have yielded findings in some of the least explored places in the country.

“We are still in the age of discovery for our lizards, and we will likely find more as we continue our investigative work this summer.”

Over the past 30 years, the number of known lizard species has almost quadrupled with new discoveries.

New Zealand now has 126 species of geckos and skinks that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. They are unique and give birth to live young, unlike many lizards elsewhere that lay eggs.

The recently updated Conservation Status of New Zealand Reptiles 2021 shows that around 90% of skink and gecko species are threatened or endangered, and more lizard populations are in decline.

Lizards are vulnerable to a wide variety of introduced predators, including mice, hedgehogs, weasels, and feral cats, in addition to rats, stoats, and opossums, which cause the most damage to native birds.

Stats NZ indicators have also found a continuing trend of net loss. The area of ​​New Zealand’s freshwater wetlands (including the Chatham Islands) decreased by nearly 1,500 hectares between 2012 and 2018.

These indicators are part of a larger tranche that will inform the New Zealand Ministry of Environment and Statistics Environment Aotearoa report to be released in April 2022.

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