Penguins, kea, tuatara at risk from new NZ climate record

Increasing temperatures will have disastrous consequences for New Zealand's wildlife unless the Government acts urgently to cut emissions and fund environmental research, Forest & Bird says.

Already, tuatara are showing signs of climate change induced stress (Photo by David Brooks).

Figures released today by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) show that 2016 was the hottest year on record for New Zealand, in-line with a new global record announced by the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service last week.

“Yellow eyed penguins, kea, and tuatara are already showing some signs of climate change induced stress. The consequences for these and many other native species will be severe unless the Government starts leading the way in cutting emissions and funding adaptation research,” says Forest & Bird's Chief Executive, Kevin Hague.

“In the face of the undeniable and unique impacts of climate change on this country it seems extraordinary and indefensible that New Zealand has been one of the slowest developed nations to act. The situation demands urgency, and our hope is that the new Bill English administration will have the political courage to accelerate the pace of action, to match what is required by the evidence.”

Already hoiho/yellow-eyed penguins, are on the verge of extinction. Since 2012, the population has plummeted from 491 breeding pairs to an estimated 190 pairs in 2016. Research suggest one of the reasons for this is mass starvation due to the changing climate.

The sex ratio of baby tuatara changes with temperature. If it is warmer, more males develop. At 4 degrees warming it is possible that only male tuatara will develop, spelling the end of this species.

Kea will face more predation from introduced predators as warmer temperatures allow pests like rats and stoats to live at higher altitudes.

“Climate change is especially a problem for New Zealand’s wildlife, because so many of our species are found only here. For many native species, already decimated by introduced predators, land conversion, and water pollution, a local extinction will be the end of their entire population,” says Mr Hague.

“New Zealand has a new Prime Minister, and a Deputy Prime Minister who is also Minister of Climate Change. They must seize the chance to act for the environment, the economy, and the lives of ordinary New Zealanders.

“New Zealand needs more science to help us predict the impact of climate change on native species, a plan to deal with the impacts of climate change on our natural world, and to urgently cut emissions,” says Mr Hague.

A warming world for New Zealanders will mean:

  • More pests and diseases with more taxes being spent controlling them
  • Increased threats to native species including penguins, kea, and tuatara
  • More weed infestations of forests and farms
  • Major risks to marine farming and fishing from warming and ocean acidification
  • Sea level rise and storms destroying the homes of people and nature
  • More frequent and worse fires and floods