Sunday 10th December, 2006(Press release 12 December 2006)
Stewart Island's yellow-eyed penguin population faces an uncertain future after a devastating breeding season in which just one chick of 32 survived.
The less than 3 percent breeding success rate is the worst since monitoring began four years ago when the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust started its five year research programme into the island's declining penguin population.
Trust executive officer Sue Murray said the shocking death rate was a blow to the trust who had hoped to uncover the mystery surrounding the plight of one of the world's rarest penguins. "We still have more questions than answers as to why the chicks are dying. This disastrous season highlights the need for more research, but with funding set to cease next year, the programme's future and that of the island's penguin population hang in the balance."
Earlier this year the trust publicised its own plight, having to dip into its capital reserves for last year's project. A combination of funding grants secured the support needed for this monitoring season with assistance from the Community Trust of Southland, Dancing Star Foundation, WWF-NZ and some local Stewart Island businesses.
Ms Murray said it was frustrating to have come this far, but not yet be able to know why the island's penguin chicks were dying of starvation or disease. It was hoped samples sent to Massey University would be able to determine whether it was starvation or disease that was the main contributing factor in the chicks' deaths. Researchers were also considering the impact recent extreme weather conditions brought on by the El Nino year might have had on the breeding season. "To be able to have another couple of years monitoring the situation, comparing research and variables, might give us the information needed to halt the decline," Ms Murray said.
This season's monitoring along Stewart Island's Anglem coast found 20 nests - down from 21 in 2005 and 27 in 2003. Of the 40 eggs laid, only 32 hatched and just one chick survived.