Albatross at sea

 

Across the centuries and across cultures, the albatross has captured human imagination. They are just one of the iconic seabirds found in the rich waters surrounding New Zealand. Together with petrels, prions, penguins, shearwaters, shags and gannets, albatrosses make up the 140 or so species which frequent the ocean covered by New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

It is no exaggeration to say that the New Zealand archipelago is a global centre of seabird diversity. However, plans to drill in some of the deepest waters of our EEZ mean that this crucial seabird habitat is potentially under threat.

Last week, we released a spill model showing the possible impacts that a deep sea oil spill could have in New Zealand’s EEZ. Forest & Bird have also released their own fact file which highlights the devastating impact that a spill in these locations could have for several seabird species.

In response to our spill model, international seabird expert Chris Gaskin notes that “a deep water blowout from a well in the Taranaki Basin

(...) would have a catastrophic effect on species occurring there, most notably Australasian Gannet and Cook’s Petrel, a globally threatened species.” Gaskin also states that “an oil spill offshore at a lesser rate than modelled will still have a significant impact”.

 

An Australasian gannet caught in the Rena spill

For the spill modelled off the east coast of the South Island, Gaskin states that “few seabirds caught in an oil slick of this magnitude would wash up on beaches of the South Island (...) – an unseen catastrophe of global scale, which, as the response to the Rena oil spill showed, would go largely unmonitored”.  

However, not all impacts would remain offshore, “as coastal species, including the iconic Yellow-eyed Penguins and most of the world’s populations of Hutton’s Shearwaters and Spotted Shags would, as days pass, be trapped by the slick as it spread across their feeding grounds.”

Albatrosses and chick

 

Even without a devastating spill, the continued quest for yet more fossil fuel reserves puts the future of our seabirds at risk - climate change will disrupt food chains and severely impact many of these oceanic hunters.

As an important habitat for over a third of the world’s seabird species, New Zealand should be leading the way in ensuring a future for these animals. Drilling for more fossil fuels in prime seabird habitat is clearly not the way forward.

View the spill model showing the possible impacts that a deep sea oil spill could have in New Zealand’s EEZ HERE.

- Dr Rachael Shaw, Greenpeace New Zealand, is an animal behaviour expert

 

Note: Photos #1 & 3 © Greenpeace/Dave Hansford & photo #2 ©Greenpeace/Dean Sewell Occuli