Pilots ignoring air space restrictions putting rare fairy tern birds at risk over Mangawhai

Flight restrictions in place around Mangawhai are being ignored by some.
Flight restrictions in place around Mangawhai are being ignored by some. Photo credit: Getty.

Helicopter, fixed-wing aircraft and microlight pilots flying over Mangawhai, north of Auckland, are putting at risk a tiny population of the country's rarest bird – the New Zealand fairy tern.

From October 3 to 23, a total of 31 aircraft were identified as breaching newly established restricted airspace over a wildlife refuge at Mangawhai spit, directly north of Tara Iti golf course.

The current population of fairy terns living on the spit – the main breeding ground of the birds – is about a quarter of the country's total population of just 40. The birds regard passing and low-flying aircraft as predators that can disrupt them so much, they will potentially abandon their nest.

"It's very important that the restricted airspace is observed, to help prevent the species, possibly New Zealand's most endangered indigenous breeding bird – becoming extinct," says Ayla Wiles, Biodiversity Ranger at the Department of Conservation in Whangarei.

"Pilots who ignore the restriction are not only in breach of Civil Aviation Rules, but potentially also breaching the Wildlife Act 1953."

DOC officers are now recording registration marks of offending aircraft, and taking photos, as evidence of the breaches.

The restricted airspace is to 1000 feet above sea level and is in place between October 1 and March 1.