The Otago Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand offers tourists opportunities for unregulated access to breeding sites of the yellow-eyed penguin ( Megadyptes antipodes ). The presence of people on beaches delays post-foraging landing by penguins, which in turn may affect the amount of food delivered by parents to their chicks, with consequences for chick growth and fledging mass. This study explored the relationship between human disturbance and yellow-eyed penguin chick fledging weight and survival by comparing five yellow-eyed penguin breeding areas with different levels of visitor frequency. We investigated whether chick fledging weights vary between breeding areas, and whether fledging weight is a predictor of juvenile survival. In 2002, chicks at Sandfly Bay, an area with high numbers of tourists, had significantly lower fledging weights than chicks at Highcliff, an area with no tourist visitors. An analysis of sightings of 2125 yellow-eyed penguin chicks banded between 1981 and 2000 indicated probability of survival was positively associated with mass at fledging. Thus lower fledging weights may have long-term population consequences. Fledging weight is influenced by many factors, however the results suggest the possibility of an effect of tourist numbers on chick fledging weight. This is noteworthy, especially in light of the rapid rate at which wildlife tourism is increasing in coastal areas of southern New Zealand.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: Sep 1, 2004
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