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Protecting penguins: new plan for hoiho conservation

2 min read

A five-year action plan launched in Dunedin aims at stopping New Zealand's yellow-eyed penguin from being extinct. Photo: Bernard Spragg

A new action plan to stop New Zeland’s yellow-eyed penguin from being extinct was launched in Dunedin on 1 August.

The five-year plan by Department of Conservation, Fisheries New Zealand, Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu was announced at the annual Yellow-Eyed Penguin symposium.

“The strategy for hoiho is the first to follow this partnership approach. It underlines the importance of a united effort to protect and restore the populations of hoiho and other taonga species. I want to thank community groups for their huge efforts to help hoiho conservation,” said Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage.

Priorities in the strategy and action plan focus on managing human activities and disturbance and reducing impacts in marine and terrestrial habitats.

The action plan Te Mahere Rima Tau involves stakeholders in the many actions required to support hoiho. It will be reviewed annually.

Proposed actions include:

  • A survey of hoiho nest sites on Rakiura/Stewart Island to identify nest numbers and locations.
  • Expanding hoiho tracking in the waters around Rakiura/ to better understand their foraging behaviour and habitat use.
  • Increased investment into research of disease to be able to better manage factors that affect hoiho survival and breeding success.

The draft Te Kaweka Takohaka mō te Hoiho was released for public comment in September 2019. The partners then revised the strategy and action plan to take account of feedback in submissions.

“The Strategy will set the direction for halting the decline of hoiho on the Aotearoa/New Zealand mainland,” minister Sage said.

While the five-year goal includes halting the decline of the northern population of hoiho and implementing a monitoring programme to assess population dynamics and threats for the southern population, the 20-year plan will ensure the northern and southern populations of hoiho are resilient, healthy, and stable and that both populations maintain their geographical distribution and genetic diversity  

Unique to New Zealand, the yellow-eyed penguin is thought to be one of the world’s rarest penguins.

In 1999, there were about 741 breeding pairs in the northern population. The 2019 estimate was 265 breeding pairs, a 65% decline in 20 years, according to DOC. The decline was due to a series of poor breeding seasons caused by lack of food, disease, and predators.

The action plan states that if the current rate of decline continues, hoiho could be functionally extinct in parts of the mainland by 2060 or sooner.

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