Plummeting yellow-eyed penguin numbers spark call for Otago beach closures

With breeding numbers of one of New Zealand’s most iconic birds continuing to plummet, zoologists at University of Otago are calling for immediate action.

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University of Otago zoologists say the birds’ population has plummeted over the last 20 years. Source: 1 NEWS

They're asking for seasonal closures of beaches home to the hoiho or yellow-eyed penguin.

One of those beaches is Sand-fly Bay in Dunedin, where numbers continue to fall.

“We’re looking at a drop from 18 nests down to two in a 10-year period,” says Otago University PHD student Melanie Young.

The call for closure comes after a study of nearby Boulder Beach, showed breeding numbers remained constant and didn’t drop when visitor access was cut off. Numbers at Sand-fly Bay dropped significantly during the same period.

The closure would be during the main breeding season between November and February.

“People are pretty good about it once you explain what the reason is and that we’re trying to do this for wildlife,” says University of Otago professor Phil Seddon.

The Dunedin City Council says any closure would need to be decided on between them and the Department of Conservation. It believed few, if any sites were being considered for closure at this stage.

Without action, experts believe the hoiho could be extinct from the mainland in the next 30 to 40 years.