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Friday, January 25, 2019

Cruise ships and seabirds

According to today's newspapers, cruise ships in New Zealand waters are being asked to dim their night lighting to avoid dazzling seabirds, after a flock of Buller's shearwaters flew into the Pacific Jewel.

It must have been quite a sight that confronted the ship's seamen, at change of watch early in the morning.  About 70 birds were prostrate on the decks or flapping around in confusion.  Obviously, it was not something the crew wanted the early joggers to see, so the gulls were hastily stowed into some big boxes, which were labelled to hand over to the Department of Conservation when the ship arrived in Auckland.

Not a good move.  The panicked birds either pecked each other to death or expired of the heat generated by their crammed bodies.  By the time the DOC took over the boxes, over half the complement was dead.

It's not the first time it has happened, apparently.  Birds have been crashing into brightly lit fishing trawlers for years, but now, with the huge popularity of the cruise ship trade, the problem has dramatically increased.  Not only are the ships numerous at this time of the year, attracting adult birds that are foraging, but they are constantly passing breeding capes and islands, where young birds are still learning to fly.

The cruise ship industry is as concerned about the problem as the conservation people, and so they are working together.   According to a news release from the Department of Conservation practical advice is being issued, describing ways to reduce the amount of light shining out to sea from cruise ships and how to manage the dazzled birds that do land on the ships.

New Zealand Cruise Association Chief Executive Kevin O’Sullivan says advice sheets have been distributed to cruise ships sailing into New Zealand ports.
“We’re asking environmental officers on large cruise ships and senior officers on smaller ships to manage the issue of safeguarding the night flying seabirds.” 
“The feedback we’ve had has been very positive. Officers and crew on cruise ships share their workspace, the ocean, with seabirds and have a genuine commitment to keeping them safe.”
“Preventing dazzled seabirds from crash landing on their decks also helps keep their passengers safe,” says Kevin O’Sullivan.
CLIA Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz said the protection of seabirds and other wildlife was an important priority for cruise lines.
“The cruise industry has a strong interest in safeguarding the oceans, wildlife and natural environment that our guests come to enjoy, and the advice of the DOC will be of great assistance to cruise lines as they work to minimise risks for New Zealand’s seabirds,” Mr Katz said.
So, when you arrive in your cabin at the start of your next seaborne adventure, expect to be asked to close your curtains at night, and don't be surprised if you find that the decks are quite dimly lit.

Great for romantic trysts, perhaps, and certainly great for the seabirds.

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