Using science to save the albatross
The crew of the Albatross Task Force last week took a brief break from their work on the high seas to attend the Task Force’s first ever workshop.
Delegates from the Task Force countries (South Africa, Namibia, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Chile) visited the Chilean fishing port of Coquimbo.
From an initial start in South Africa in 2006, in less than three years the task force has been expanded to seven priority countries where albatrosses are known to die in hugely unsustainable numbers in longline and trawl fisheries.
During a hectic schedule, delegates learnt from one another sharing best practice about their successes. A significant part of the programme was also devoted to carrying out research on three pelagic longline vessels from Coquimbo.
Dr Ben Sullivan - BirdLife Global Seabird Programme Coordinator - who developed the Task Force, said: “We are very proud that in a very short time, the Albatross Task Force has become globally recognised by conservationists and fisheries as a highly effective body finding ways to stop the needless deaths of albatrosses and petrels.
“…the Task Force’s remit will increasingly include an emphasis on at-sea research…” —Dr Ben Sullivan, BirdLife Global Seabird Programme Coordinator
“With many successes already under our belt, the Task Force’s remit will increasingly include an emphasis on at-sea research to develop practical measures to save the lives of albatrosses before it is too late.”
Currently, 18 of the world’s 22 species of albatross are facing extinction, with four of those species being regarded as Critically Endangered, meaning these species are facing an extremely high risk of global extinction.
In longline fisheries albatrosses die when they try to steal fish bait from hooks. In trawl fisheries, albatrosses are increasingly dying when the birds collide with fishing gear.
A key way to prevent the deaths of albatrosses is to encourage vessels to deploy bird-scaring or tori lines. These lines, complete with streamers suspended from the lines, deter albatrosses and other seabirds from approaching the boats too closely. The deployment of such measures saves the lives of albatrosses and petrels.
Although longline fisheries target fish beyond the diving depth of albatrosses, the birds are vulnerable until the bait sinks. During a packed week of research, the Albatross Task Force has teamed up with two of the world’s most eminent seabird scientists: Graham Robertson of Australian Antarctic Division and Ed Melvin of the Seattle-based Washington Sea Grant. Both scientists, and the Task Force’s manager Ben Sullivan, conducted experiments to explore whether it’s possible to get the bait to sink faster, denying more birds a potentially costly meal.
“The sighting of a Chatham Albatross from the other side of the Southern Ocean inspired our teams and reminded them of the importance of our work” —Dr Ben Sullivan, BirdLife Global Seabird Programme Coordinator
The Task Force members, who work in some of the harshest conditions on earth, are all committed to the conservation of the world’s threatened seabirds. During the week, the Task Force members signed a declaration, committing themselves to a programme of research to help ensure the future of the world’s most awe inspiring birds.
During the sea voyage, the lucky crew of one vessel spotted a Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremite from New Zealand. One of the world’s Critically Endangered species. Ben Sullivan added: “The sighting of a Chatham Albatross from the other side of the Southern Ocean inspired our teams and reminded them of the importance of our work. This day the albatross was safe, but on another day, it might have drowned on a longline. We must do everything in our power to prevent the needless slaughter of these birds: we have lost too many albatrosses in the past we are determined not to lose many more.”
Over the next few months, the Albatross Task Force teams will conduct a series of experiments, the results of which will be presented in a series of papers at next year’s meeting of ACAP: the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.
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Credits: Global Seabird Programme