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New Zealand is a very special place for seabirds.   Nearly one-quarter of the world’s seabird species breed in New Zealand – more than anywhere else on earth.  And they are taonga (treasured) in Maori culture. 

Originally free from predators, New Zealand used to be a refuge for billions of seabirds.  Spending most of their lives at sea, seabirds introduce rich marine nutrients to our soil - they helped to make New Zealand the fertile place it is.   

Seabirds have existed for over 60 million years, however, in the 50 years to 2010 global seabird numbers declined by around 70% (230 million seabirds).  


Of the species that breed in New Zealand (85), 41% (35) do not breed anywhere else in the world, 90% are now considered at risk and 55% are considered threatened with extinction.  Largely this is because they have lost places to nest, because of introduced predators, and because they are injured or killed by fishing.   

Albatrosses, petrels, shags, and penguins are important types of seabirds that feed and breed in New Zealand waters.  Albatrosses and petrels have learned the easiest way to get food is to forage at the back of fishing vessels, where they risk becoming caught on baited hooks or entangled in fishing gear. Shags and penguins can swim into set nets and become entangled and drown. Because of the way they feed, these seabirds are particularly at risk from fishing.

Losing a breeding bird has the greatest impact because it means its chick also dies. It can take a season or two for the remaining parent to find another mate, and some species only lay one egg every other year.  So, one dead adult bird can have a long-term chain effect.



22 of the 85 species that breed in New Zealand are pictured below.  Click on an image or visit NZ Birds Online for more information about each species.

You too can be part of the change for seabirds

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