Can we define marine habitat use by seabirds without costly at-sea observational data? (innovation fund)

Seabirds. Photo: NIWA/Suze Baird

Our waters support the greatest diversity of seabirds on Earth, but defining where birds are and in what numbers can be extremely expensive. We are investigating whether relative environmental suitability (RES) models could produce sufficiently accurate estimates of seasonal seabird distributions, at a much lower cost than boat-based observations.

Project leader: David Thompson, NIWA

Can we predict which seabirds are where?

New Zealand waters support the greatest diversity of seabirds on Earth. However, there is little information available about where seabirds are found within New Zealand’s EEZ, and how their distributions (numbers) vary with time. This lack of data often means that managers, decision-makers, Māori, stakeholders and the public do not have the detailed and robust information needed to gauge how particular threats in the marine environment could affect these high-profile, protected species.

Unfortunately, getting detailed and systematic at-sea data about where sea birds are and in what numbers through conventional boatbased field work is extremely expensive. Relative environmental suitability (RES) models are cheaper because they do not incorporate location data, they rely upon knowledge of the environmental characteristics that particular seabird species prefer.

We are investigating whether RES models are sufficient to produce accurate estimates of seasonal seabird distributions – or if seabird location data from sightings and electronic tracking devices are more accurate. To do this we are comparing species-specific RES models to habitat suitability models that are produced from either observational data or location data from electronic tags.

This tiered novel approach has the potential to produce new information about how seabirds use the marine environment whilst making huge resource savings.

Latest news and updates

Award recognises contribution to marine science

University of Waikato scientist Professor Conrad Pilditch is the 2018 winner of the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society Award. The Award recognises his continued and outstanding contribution to marine science in New Zealand.

Sustainable Seas features on Ocean Bounty S2 EP7

Sir Rob Fenwick,  our Chairman was interviewed about Sustainable Seas on S2 EP7 of Ocean Bounty. You can watch it here on TV 3 on demand.  (6.57 to 11.20).  

Consultation opens re 2019–2024 strategy

Improving marine management is critical to New Zealand's future health and wealth, but research in isolation is not enough. Excellent engagement with, and participation from, all users and sectors of society is essential.

We therefore invite comment on our draft strategy for Phase II (2019–2024). This strategy has been co-developed with Māori and stakeholders.