3 Jul 2014

High-seas heroes recognised for their success!

Conservation success: Bronwyn Maree (Albatross Task Force team leader, South Africa) received the 'Future for Nature Award'. Photo: Christine Madden, ATF
By Shaun Hurrell

Our Albatross Task Force (ATF) in South Africa has reduced the death of albatrosses in local fisheries by more than 90% and is receiving well-deserved attention.

The overriding threat to albatrosses and their close relatives is accidental, yet deadly, interaction with fisheries. Our innovative bird-scaring lines are preventing seabirds from accidentally drowning on long-line fish hooks, and Birdlife South Africa's Albatross Task Force recently won "Greening the Future" and "Future for Nature" awards for their elegantly simple solution (awarded by the Mail & Guardian newspaper).

The ATF are an elite team of international high-seas heroes that venture out to sea with local fishermen, testing and finding solutions.

The ATF’s work in South Africa’s largest, most economically valuable fishery – the hake trawl fishery – began in 2004. After the ATF work uncovered seabird mortalities in this fishery at astonishing levels – some 14 000 birds were being killed each year – they took action.

A line strung off the back of the boat, with streamers that dangle off the main line, was all that was required to scare the seabirds away from the danger areas behind trawlers. Earlier this year, the ATF team and their collaborators published a study showing that their lines were responsible for reducing accidental deaths by 90%. For albatrosses alone the benefits were even bigger – a reduction of 99%.

BirdLife South Africa has also supported a disabled community by training them in how to make the bird-scaring lines, and selling these lines on to fishing companies.

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The Albatross Task Force is an initiative lead by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) for the BirdLife International Partnership.

Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, said:

“The Albatross Task Force has achieved truly remarkable results, effectively eliminating a conservation problem, under very difficult circumstances, with limited budgets, and in a way that benefits the fishing industry rather than creating costs. It’s a very pleasing conservation success for BirdLife South Africa.”

15 out of 22 species of albatross are threatened with extinction. The main threat to albatrosses is death at the end of a hook on a fishing long-line.
Working closely with BirdLife Partners in the Southern Ocean, we're working to stop the needless slaughter of these amazing birds and bring them back from the brink of extinction.

See the Albatross Task Force at work in our video: