Kite surfers appear like birds of prey swooping down, to the little dotterels that nest on local beaches.
In response, the birds run away from their nests to distract the predator – this can lead to egg failure and less chicks to bolster the population of this endangered species.
It’s not a new problem, as great kiting conditions often coincide with the dotterels’ breeding season. However, Auckland Council’s senior ranger open sanctuaries, Matt Maitland, says the growth of the sport has made things worse this spring at Te Haruhi Bay in Shakespear Regional Park.
“Native birds are hard-wired to look for predators in the sky, particularly on a beach or dune system with little cover,” Matt says. “The sails of kite surfers have an effect like dogs running free – scaring the birds off their nests repeatedly.”
He says this is not only stressful and energy sapping for the birds, but once the parent is off the nest, eggs are exposed to cooling, or heating from the sun, either of which can kill the unborn chicks.
“Winds have been ideal this season at Te Haruhi Bay and we get dozens of kite surfers on a good day,” Matt says. “It’s one of the core issues at the open sanctuary – trying to integrate a busy recreational space, working farm and pest free sanctuary.”
The birds can be disturbed as the kite surfers take their gear down to the sea, passing close to fenced off nesting areas. The most impact is at high tide, when the kite sailors are much closer to the birds.
“We want the public to enjoy their sport, but ask that they respect the environment too. Perhaps choose lower tide or, once in the water, go further offshore and give the birds some space. That also provides space for other people, such as swimmers.”
Despite this issue, Matt says Shakespear is an “engine room for dotterel recovery” and, together with Tawharanui Open Sanctuary contributes around half of the regional increase in dotterel population. This year there are five chicks at Shakespear.
“Hopefully they fledge before it gets too busy,” Matt says.