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Sentinels of change: a new exhibition on the state of Aotearoa's seabirds

Just as canaries once warned coal miners of carbon monoxide, seabirds signal the declining health of our ecosystem. With the birds increasingly threatened by habitat loss and predators, a new exhibition at The New Zealand Maritime Museum Hui Te Ananui a Tangaroa serves as an urgent call to action for conservation. Sentinel (3 May - 27 October) is an immersive exhibition that explores the world of Aotearoa New Zealand's seabirds and emphasises the importance of their conservation in the face of mounting threats. Seabirds, often unseen by those on land, were once the great connectors of ecosystems, enriching the forests of Aotearoa with nutrients from the sea. However, their mainland colonies are shadows of their former selves, and they are largely confined to the coast and pest-free islands. Seabirds face multiple threats including invasive species, pollution, climate change, and direct human impacts. As a result, their populations have diminished. As an example, the Kawau tikitiki (spotted shag), that once numbered in the tens of thousands in Tikapa Moana Hauraki Gulf, are down to only 250 breeding pairs. Sentinel combines science, photography, interactive video, sculpture, and sound to transport visitors into the world of these wandering and embattled seafarers. Prominent New Zealand scientists and artists, Edin Whitehead, André Bellvé, Marcel Bellvé, Micah Livesay, Lani Purkis, and Shane McLean have contributed to this unique exhibition. The artistic direction of Sentinel draws heavily from the research conducted by ecologist André Bellvé and his team. Their analysis of sightings and observations from 1841 to 1989, fossil records, and present-day seabird colonies showcase the significant role seabirds play in nutrient transfer between sea and land ecosystems. The exhibition reveals the drastic decline in seabird numbers and a substantial reduction in nutrient transfer since the arrival of humans and invasive mammals in Aotearoa. “Aotearoa is home to more seabird species than anywhere else in the world. Most of them live out of sight, out of mind for most people, as they spend most of their lives at sea,” says Edin Whitehead, Seabird Scientist and Conservation Photographer. “These birds rely on the oceans around Aotearoa to survive, and current research is showing that survival is becoming a lot harder for even some of the more common species. They are sentinels of change, and Sentinel is about illuminating their lives and what they are telling us about our management of the environment.” “The aim of Sentinel is to foster a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of Aotearoa New Zealand’s ecosystems and the critical role seabirds play within them. We hope that visitors will understand that it's our collective responsibility to protect the future of seabirds,” says Jaqui Knowles, Exhibitions Curator at the New Zealand Maritime Museum. Where: New Zealand Maritime Museum, corner of Quay & Hobson Streets, Viaduct Harbour When: 3 May - 27 October 2024 Cost: Free with museum entry (museum entry is free for Auckland residents)



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