Concerns electric seagliders will endanger NZ’s ‘spectacular’ seabirds

Scientists are concerned electric seagliders will put Aotearoa’s “spectacular seabirds” in harm’s way.

The gliders are an emerging type of ocean-based transport being touted as a zero-emissions way to slash the cost of flying around New Zealand.

They are part ferry, part plane and part hydrofoil and travel at high speed just off the surface of the water using a phenomenon known as the “ground effect”.

However, Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust’s Chris Gaskin said the gliders would “undoubtedly pose a massive threat to our seabirds”.

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“Flying birds will be unable to get out of the way of a craft traveling more than 200kph, while collisions with larger species, such as albatross, could impact the glider itself, and its passengers.”

Ordinary boats already impacted the seabirds, but a craft racing through at high speeds could do “a lot more damage”, he said.

Ocean Flyer has ordered 25 electric seagliders for the New Zealand market.

Regent / Supplied

Ocean Flyer has ordered 25 electric seagliders for the New Zealand market.

Ocean Flyer has ordered 25 electric seagliders for the New Zealand market. They will be used to fly passengers between coastal cities and towns for a fraction of the price of traditional airlines.

It is estimated fares between Whangārei and Auckland could be as little as $ 30 and between Christchurch and Wellington from $ 60.

Gaskin said seabirds were already facing a huge range of threats – from climate change to competition with fisheries for food. Electric gliders would add “yet another hazard” that put their future at risk.

The Hauraki Gulf is home to 27 different seabirds, including threatened species and birds found nowhere else in the world.

This includes storm petrels, which were thought to be extinct for more than a century before being discovered breeding on Hauturu o Toi Little Barrier Island in 2013.

Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust's Chris Gaskin says the gliders

Ross Giblin / Stuff

Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust’s Chris Gaskin says the gliders “undoubtedly pose a massive threat” to seabirds.

BirdLife International’s Stephanie Borrelle said the search for innovative green energy solutions to meet transport needs should not come at the “expense of our unique wildlife”.

She said: “We need to work with nature for true sustainability. We don’t want to be world leaders in slicing and dicing our precious seabirds and other marine life. ”

Ngāti Manuhiri acting director Nicola MacDonald said the high-speed crafts would impact taonga.

“Our Atua Tawhirimatea and Tangaroa are the divine beings who look after the mauri of Taia.”

Ocean Flyer co-founder and Air Napier investor Shah Aslam said United States company Regent, which is developing the seagliders, was doing a lot of work to ensure they avoided birds and sea life.

“We have been approached by environmental groups and we have reached out to a couple of researchers.

“Ocean Flyer welcomes feedback from the scientists. At this early stage in the development of the technology and business model, feedback from stakeholders is vital to make sure we get this right. ”

Seagliders could be fitted with horns or air-cannons or equipped with stacks of flashing lights which were another way of communicating dangers to birds, he said.

“It is going to take about another six to 12 months before we can say ‘this is what we are going to have to do to manage and mitigate these risks’.

“We also believe that getting to carbon neutrality by 2050 is essential to ensuring the survival of all wildlife, including seabirds, which is at the heart of our mission.”

Bird strikes only became dangerous for aircraft at high speeds. In harbor limits, where most of the birds would be, the seagliders would be traveling at 10-15kph, he said.

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