Events planned for Year of the Godwit 2015 by Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust

Celebrating the amazing journey of NZ migratory birds, this year the Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust is commemorating its 40th anniversary, as Year of the Godwit 2015. From the 18th March among events being planned is a series of free public lectures by eminent international experts on the precarious future of these fascinating shorebirds.

Working in DPR Korea is just the latest step for a small group concerned about the future of New Zealand’s migratory shorebirds. Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust has signed an agreement with officials in Pyongyang to investigate shorebird sites on the coast of DPR Korea.

‘The idea is to work with colleagues of DPR Korea to survey coastal sites and count birds staging there during migration,’ said Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre Manager Keith Woodley. ‘This follows on from work we have been doing in China for the last ten years, and will fill a significant gap in our knowledge of shorebirds in the Yellow Sea region.’

Filling such knowledge gaps is urgently required because the epic migration of shorebirds from New Zealand to their Arctic breeding grounds is in imminent danger of collapse.

Research by scientists at the University of Queensland has documented dramatic declines in many shorebird populations in the Asia-Pacific region. The most common Arctic-breeding species occurring in New Zealand, the bar-tailed godwit is showing a gradual but steady decline, while other species have declined by 80% in 20 years. The second and third most numerous Arctic-breeding birds occurring in New Zealand, red knot and ruddy turnstone are both experiencing rapid declines.

‘The main cause of these declines is habitat loss at migration re-fuelling sites in East Asia,’ said Woodley. ‘To make their marathon migration flights between wintering sites in Australasia and breeding grounds in the Arctic, birds need to stop and refuel along the way. Many species may only require one stop, but that stop is essential if they are to complete their migration and breed successfully. However those vital stopover sites are rapidly disappearing before a tide of human development.’

Satellite data was used to document rapid loss of intertidal wetlands around the Yellow Sea coasts of China and the Korean Peninsula. Over a million hectares of tidal flats have been lost since 1950, with much of this over the last three decades. ‘That is 7 times the intertidal area of the Manukau Harbour, Kaipara Harbour and Firth of Thames combined,’ said Woodley.

Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust, based on the Firth of Thames, has been at the forefront of efforts to secure a future for these migratory birds. ‘We realised early on that protecting them here in New Zealand was not sufficient,’ said Woodley. ‘They depend on a network of habitats linking this country with East Asia, Russia and Alaska. Each link in the chain is essential for the migration system to work.’

‘These and other speakers will tell amazing stories about these remarkable shorebirds and their migrations, about methods of research and the astonishing discoveries made along the way. How is a young godwit – barely four months old – able to set out from Alaska and find New Zealand, on its first ever migration flight? How is it possible to monitor a pair of nesting shorebirds from 12,000 km away, and learn how long each bird incubates before being relieved by its partner?

‘We want to make all New Zealanders aware of these remarkable birds, and the perilous future they face. We want to share their fabulous journeys far and wide, and need support to continue our work here and in East Asia,’ said Woodley.

Year of the Godwit 2015 events confirmed for Auckland are:

Wednesday 18th March 7.30 pm
Dr Pavel Tomkovich, University Museum of Moscow

Wednesday 30th September 7.30 pm
Scott Weidensaul, naturalist and award wining author

Wednesday 25th November 7.30 pm
Professor Theunis Piersma, University of Groningen and Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research
Venue: University of Auckland Tāmaki Campus, Gate 1, 261 Morrin Road, St Johns

Details for planned events elsewhere in the country will be announced shortly. To find out more, please click here.

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