This discussion was first published on Nov 30 2010 as part of the 2010-2011 Red List update, but remains open for comment to enable reassessment in 2013.
Northern Royal Albatross Diomedea sanfordi is listed as Endangered under criteria A4b,c; B2a+b(iii,v) on the basis that the species occupies an Area of Occupancy of less than 10 km2, including fewer than five locations (three island groups), in which the population is estimated to be undergoing a very rapid decline.
The rate of decline is estimated at 50-79% over 84 years (1985-2069; estimate of three generations), and is caused primarily by the destruction of most vegetation and removal of soil cover on the Chatham Islands (where 99% of the global breeding population nest) when a cyclonic storm hit them in 1985 (Robertson 1998). Birds subsequently constructed their nests with stones, or laid eggs on bare rock (Taylor 2000). As a result, mean annual productivity plummeted to 8% (1990-1996) on the Forty-Fours, and 18% over all three islands (Robertson 1998), due to egg breakage, exposure to high temperatures and flooding (Taylor 2000), although there has since been a partial recovery (Robertson et al. 2003).
By 2007, annual herb-field vegetation cover had recovered to about 70% of that recorded in the 1970s. The soil base is still minimal, but improving. While productivity has continued to improve, the mean annual chick production during 1995-2003 was still only 66% of the mean annual productivity per annum in the 1970s. It is estimated that for the 20 year period 1985-2005 there was a total 50-60% reduction in productivity for the species. However, it is clear from the annual chick production figures that the annual breeding population is becoming much more balanced than in the 1990s, when as much at 80-90% of the breeding population was attempting to breed annually (rather than the normal 60%).
In 2002, a survey at the end of egg-laying recorded 5,800 pairs, with a probable 1,700 pairs on sabbatical (after breeding in the previous season). This suggests that in spite of the extensive reduction in productivity over a 20 year period, the number of breeding pairs may have remained relatively stable (C. J. R. Robertson in litt. 2008).
The effects of severe weather and projected climate change are regarded as serious potential threats; however the ongoing threats of fisheries bycatch, the direct harvesting of chicks and the effects of introduced species are regarded as minor. Further information on this species’s current and projected population trends over a period of 81 years (revised estimate of three generations), as well as the estimated population size, is requested to help in the assessment of its threat status.
Robertson, C. J. R. (1998) Factors influencing the breeding performance of the Northern Royal Albatross. Pp. 99-104 in Robertson, G. and Gales, R., eds. Albatross biology and conservation. Chipping Norton, Australia: Surrey Beatty & Sons.
Robertson, C. J. R., Bell, D., Sinclair, N. and Bell, B. D. (2003) Distribution of seabirds from New Zealand that overlap with fisheries worldwide. Science for Conservation 233. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Conservation.
Taylor, G. A. (2000) Action plan for seabird conservation in New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Conservation (Threatened Species Occasional Publication 16).
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