20 Apr 2020

An interview with one of our Albatross Task Force human stars

The Albatross Task Force is on a mission to reduce seabird bycatch at some of the world's most deadly fisheries. Discover what motivates the "human stars" of #AlbatrossStories to make such large lifestyle sacrifices for these birds, and what you can do to help.

Black browed albatross © Derren Fox
Black browed albatross © Derren Fox
By Stephanie Prince

While our  feathered stars on #BirdIsland occupy most of #AlbatrossStories, our human stars work tirelessly behind the scenes to improve the protection of these birds from dangers they face both on land and at sea. We spoke with Albatross Task Force (ATF) Project Officer Nina da Rocha about the international work of this inspiring team, the best methods for reducing albatross bycatch in industrial fisheries and what you can do to help the future of the albatross.

Nina, as a member of the Albatross Task Force you work with governments and fishermen to help save threatened seabirds. What drew you into working for the conservation of these amazing species?

I have always been fascinated by the creatures that call the vast oceans their home and know no borders. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that marine conservation was what I wanted to do and that fisheries management was an area where a massive impact could be made.

Albatrosses are amazing birds on so many different levels, but what truly drew me in to working for their protection was discovering that very simple solutions already exist to keep these birds safe at sea. Knowing that such small and inexpensive changes can be made to prevent thousands of needless deaths every year, I just couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else! 

Albatrosses are migratory seabirds and live all over the world. How far does the work of Albatross Task Force stretch?

Albatrosses spend most of their time soaring over the ocean and can literally fly around the world in a year! But there are certain areas where they are at greater risk of encountering fishing vessels and being accidentally killed. Since scientists roughly know where the birds go at different times of the year, they can predict where they are most likely to become caught in potentially lethal fishing gear. The map to the right is from a recent study doing exactly that (with red representing the areas of greatest risk). 

Based on this type of information we have ATF teams working with fleets that pose a high risk to albatrosses in five countries across South America and southern Africa. Our long-term monitoring of these fleets confirms that tens of thousands of seabirds are being killed in these areas each year, which shows that we are working in the right places! 

As the #HumanStars of #AlbatrossStories and the faces behind major positive news for albatross species the ATF is a key driving force for the conservation of these birds. Can you tell us a bit about the teams and what work 'on the ground' looks like?

Our ATF instructors spend some of their time on fishing vessels out at sea, where they monitor how many seabirds are being accidentally killed and show fishers what can be done to prevent these deaths from occurring. This means spending time away from family and friends on what can be very rough seas – so it is no easy task!

When they return to land, our dedicated teams carry on doing all they can to keep seabirds safe. Amongst other things, this includes working with governments to change laws and fishing permit conditions, teaching fishers in ports about seabird conservation and training national fisheries observers to monitor seabird bycatch out at sea. The first fishery the ATF started working with was the South African hake trawl fleet in 2006 and albatross bycatch has since been reduced by 99%.  

In fisheries where existing solutions to prevent seabirds from being killed aren’t effective, our ATF teams work with the fishing industry and researchers to identify and develop new solutions to keep seabirds safe!

What are some of the best methods for reducing albatross bycatch? 

The ATF’s aim is to reduce seabird bycatch in our target fisheries by 80% through the implementation of simple, inexpensive activities and tools that can be adopted across entire fleets. These are known as ‘seabird bycatch mitigation measures’ and include bird-scaring lines which have colourful streamers (like the one in the picture to the left) and act as scare-crows at-sea, fishing under the cover of darkness when most seabirds are not actively foraging, and adding weights to longlines so that they sink out of the reach of hungry seabirds quicker. 

ATF member with a bird-scaring line on a trawl vessel

How can the public get involved?

You can get involved by following #AlbatrossStories on social media and help to spread our message by sharing our stories with your friends and loved ones. You can also support the work of the ATF to protect these extraordinary birds in the areas they need it the most by becoming a Friend of the Albatross and contributing a monthly donation of your choice. 

Why are projects like the Albatross Task Force and #AlbatrossStories so important, and can we be hopeful for the future of the albatross?

Over 100,000 albatrosses die on longline hooks every year. That is a painful, lonely, tragic and entirely preventable death every 5 minutes. Fisheries bycatch is the single highest threat to albatross at sea, currently affecting 95% of all species. If we don’t do something about this, these stunning and awe-inspiring ocean wanderers won’t be around for much longer – they simply can’t breed fast enough to replace the number of those killed.

The good news is that we know exactly what to do to keep these birds safe at sea and ensure they return to feed their hungry chicks on the nest. If all fishing vessels were to use seabird bycatch mitigation measures, the number of birds killed in fishing operations would be reduced to negligible levels. This has already happened in many fisheries around the world, but to ensure the survival of albatrosses they need to be protected everywhere they go! Only then can we rest assured that these magnificent creatures will continue to soar across the oceans for generations to come. Please consider supporting our work to help make this a reality. 


Keep up to date with all #AlbatrossStories news on FacebookTwitter (@AlbyTaskForce) and Instagram (@albatross_stories).


Albatross Stories is funded by the Darwin Initiative, South Georgia Heritage Trust, and Friends of South Georgia Island.