Yellow-eyed penguin plan aims to halt slide towards extinction

3:01 pm on 1 August 2020

An action plan to try to stop the endangered hoiho/ yellow-eyed penguin from becoming extinct has been released today.

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Yellow-eyed penguin numbers have fallen drastically over the past 20 years. Photo: Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust

The 10-year plan was launched in Dunedin by the Department of Conservation, Fisheries New Zealand, the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, and South Island tribe Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

During the last hoiho breeding season, the number of pairs dropped to the lowest level since 1990 in the South Island, Stewart Island and nearby islands.

In 1999, there were about 741 breeding pairs of the rare native penguin, but by 2019 this had dropped by 65 percent to 265 pairs.

Falling penguin numbers were caused by lack of food, disease and predators, DOC stated.

In the breeding season from 2018 to 2019, more than 400 birds needed rehabilitation, mostly due to starvation.

"If the current rate of decline continues, hoiho could be functionally extinct in parts of the mainland by 2060 or sooner," the action plan stated.

More research is needed on the numbers of hoiho in the Subantarctic Auckland Islands and Campbell Island.

The plans sets a top priority of securing funding for bird hospital care of sick, injured and underweight hoiho.

Promoting fishing methods that stop hoiho being accidentally caught in set nets is another high priority in the plan. It calls for observers or electronic monitoring on at least half of the boats using set nets in hoiho habitat.

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Photo: Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust

The four organisations plan to commission a marine spatial planning exercise to see what forms of marine protection are needed to protect hoiho and their food sources.

Disturbance from tourism activities needed to be tackled, along with marine pollution, noise and predation from pests, such as pigs, mustelids, cats and rats.

The plan includes monitoring of hoiho numbers, health, habitat, stresses and diet.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage helped to launch the plan.

"Te Kaweka Takohaka mō te Hoiho is a high-level strategy which aims to restore hoiho populations in the face of pressures from human activities at sea and on land," Sage said.

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