Members of the Leigh Penguin Project are keeping a close eye on what’s happening with the penguins that nest in the Leigh and Ti Point area.
This follows the death of hundreds of little blue penguins in Northland over the last few months.
Project organiser Jenny Enderby says the penguins – the smallest in the world and native to New Zealand – were starting to turn up along the coast last month, coming ashore to breed.
She is relieved the die-off in the north doesn’t seem to be happening in the Hauraki Gulf, but is concerned for the local population.
Department of Conservation technical expert Dave Houston says the current La Nina conditions, which see higher than usual ocean temperatures around the coast, is behind the deaths. It leads to the fish that the birds normally feed on staying in cooler, deeper waters as surface temperatures rise.
When the birds first started turning up dead in May, the Ministry of Primary Industries sent seven for necropsy. This showed the birds had starved and had also been suffering from hypothermia with no blubber to keep them warm in the water.
“DOC hasn’t received any reports of unusual levels of mortality in the Hauraki Gulf. This could be due to marine conditions being different in the Hauraki Gulf, but that’s not to say that it may not happen,” he says.
La Nina patterns are expected to continue this winter.
The Leigh group recently had assistance from Spark employee Daniel Stastny, who volunteered to help pinpoint and mark penguin nests on Ti Point. Employees with Spark New Zealand get a day off to volunteer periodically.
The nesting sites were identified a couple of years ago by an Auckland Council sniffer dog and GPS co-ordinates were taken. But Enderby says these co-ordinates could be up to eight metres out. Physically marking where the sites are and keeping an eye on the birds, is more important now because of the die-off.
Along with clambering over rocks looking for nests, Stastny also emptied pest traps set up to keep the penguins and other wild life safe, and collected rubbish along the shore line at Ti Point.
The volunteer group keeps tabs on nesting boxes and natural nesting sites around the Leigh and Ti Point coastline, with cameras set up to monitor about 14. They estimate there are around 20 nesting sites at Leigh, at least six at Goat Island and 22 at Ti Point.