Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Read about recent developments and findings in procellariiform science and conservation relevant to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels in ACAP Latest News.

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BirdLife South Africa declares the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross as its Bird of the Year for 2014

The Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena is perhaps the most threatened species listed within the Albatross and Petrel Agreement, facing as it does the twin threats of chick predation by mice ashore and longlining mortality at sea (click here).  In response BirdLife South Africa has declared the species to be its Bird of the Year for 2014 so as to increase publicity of its plight.

Tristan Albatross chick on Gough Island, a victim of attacks by mice

Photograph by Peter Ryan

“Seabirds, and albatrosses in particular, face a variety of daunting challenges.  They are becoming increasingly threatened and at a faster rate globally than any other group of birds. Many declines are closely linked to the expansion of commercial longline fisheries in seabird foraging areas, combined with the impacts of invasive alien species at nesting colonies.  The 2012 IUCN Red List reveals that the Tristan Albatross is the only Critically Endangered species that occurs annually in South African territory (including territorial waters).  The listing is a result of the bird’s extremely small breeding range (it is essentially a single-island endemic) and an exceptionally rapid projected population decline over three generations (70 years).  The population is decreasing through a combination of unsustainable deaths from tuna longline fishing and the incredible damage done by predatory, introduced mice at Gough Island, which are laying waste to around half the chicks produced every season.  Currently BirdLife South Africa is collaborating with the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town, tracking juvenile birds.  One of them recently entered South African waters, near Cape Town, and perhaps lucky birders on a pelagic trip could even see this individual in future!”

Other news from South Africa is that Professor John Croxall, Chairman of the BirdLife International’s Global Seabird Programme will be the guest speaker at BirdLife South Africa’s Annual General Meeting to be held at Mont-aux-Sources in South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal on 15 March 2014.  John has served on many national and international committees, notably as President of the British Ornithologists’ Union and Chairman of Council of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).  He has received numerous awards, including appointment as CBE, election as a Fellow of the Royal Society, and receiving the President's and Godman-Salvin Medals of the British Ecological Society and the BOU, respectively. He is an Honorary Professor at the Universities of Birmingham and Durham, an Honorary Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pacific Seabird Group in 2008.  John Croxall retired from a long and distinguished career studying southern seabirds with the British Antarctic Survey in 2006 but remains active in the conservation and management of seabirds and marine systems, especially with his participation in the Global Seabird Programme, as a member of the High Seas Task Force of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and as a regular attendee at Sessions of ACAP’s Meeting of Parties and its Advisory Committee since 2001.

John Croxall conducting field work on Bird Island (with a Wandering Albatross behind)

Immediately before the AGM John and Alison Stattersfield, Head of Science at BirdLife International, will participate in LAB (Learn about Birds), a two-day interactive series of lectures, presentations and discussions co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the University of Cape Town's Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 01 February 2014

Trade-offs between reproduction and survival in old Wandering Albatrosses

Deborah Pardo (British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom and ACAP’s European News Correspondent) and colleagues write open-access in the journal Ecology and Evolution on ageing in Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Allocation decisions depend on an organism’s condition which can change with age.  Two opposite changes in life-history traits are predicted in the presence of senescence: either an increase in breeding performance in late age associated with terminal investment or a decrease due to either life-history trade-offs between current breeding and future survival or decreased efficiency at old age.  Age variation in several life-history traits has been detected in a number of species, and demographic performances of individuals in a given year are influenced by their reproductive state the previous year.  Few studies have, however, examined state-dependent variation in life-history traits with aging, and they focused mainly on a dichotomy of successful versus failed breeding and nonbreeding birds.  Using a 50-year dataset on the long-lived quasi-biennial breeding wandering albatross, we investigated variations in life-history traits with aging according to a gradient of states corresponding to potential costs of reproduction the previous year (in ascending order): non-breeding birds staying at sea or present at breeding grounds, breeding birds that failed early, late or were successful.  We used multistate models to study survival and decompose reproduction into four components (probabilities of return, breeding, hatching, and fledging), while accounting for imperfect detection.  Our results suggest the possible existence of two strategies in the population: strict biennial breeders that exhibited almost no reproductive senescence and quasi-biennial breeders that showed an increased breeding frequency with a strong and moderate senescence on hatching and fledging probabilities, respectively.  The patterns observed on survival were contrary to our predictions, suggesting an influence of individual quality rather than trade-offs between reproduction and survival at late ages.  This work represents a step further into understanding the evolutionary ecology of senescence and its relationship with costs of reproduction at the population level.  It paves the way for individual-based studies that could show the importance of intra-population heterogeneity in those processes.”

An old Wanderer guards its chick, photograph by John Cooper

Click here to access earlier publications by Deborah Pardo on ageing in albatrosses, including her PhD thesis on the subject.

Reference:

Pardo, D., Barbraud, C. & Weimerskirch, H. 2014.  What shall I do now?  State-dependent variations of life-history traits with aging in Wandering Albatrosses.  Ecology and Evolution doi: 10.1002/ece3.882.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 31 January 2014

You go sisters! Two seabird conservationists receive prestigious awards for work with albatrosses and other seabirds

Two seabird conservationists have recently received receive prestigious awards for work with albatrosses and other seabirds: Bronwyn Maree of South Africa has received the Future for Nature Award for 2014 and Barbara Wienecke from Australia has been awarded the Australian Antarctic Medal.

The Future for Nature Award 2014, an international, competitive award for young conservationists, has been won by South African Bronwyn Maree.  Bronwyn leads BirdLife International’s Albatross Task Force (ATF) in South Africa, working through BirdLife South Africa.  She is one of three winners chosen from 10 nominees out of 126 applications from 58 countries.  The international award comes with a purse of €50 000 to be used for a project of her choice.  Bronwyn was also a top ten finalist for the Future for Nature 2013 Award.

Bronwyn Maree joined the South African ATF team in 2008 as an instructor and was promoted to its leader in 2010.  According to the Future for Nature Foundation “Since implementing ATF-recommended measures, seabird mortalities have decreased [in South African waters] by an amazing 75-95% (most notably albatross mortalities) in the foreign-flagged longline fishery and the domestic trawl fishery, saving thousands of endangered seabirds each year.  Bronwyn has collected at-sea data on interactions of seabirds with fishing gear on 40 sea trips in five years on board commercial trawlers, conducted and overseen scientific experiments testing new technologies, and trained skippers, crew and even the fishing industry’s CEOs.  Under Bronwyn’s leadership, new sources of mortality have been found and creative solutions have been devised, agreed to by government and industry, and implemented in legally binding permits.”

Read more on Bronwyn Maree’s work to help conserve albatrosses and petrels and her award here.

 Bronwyn Maree

Barbara Wienecke was awarded the Australian Antarctic Medal in June last year (click here).  “Barb” is a Senior Ecologist with the Australian Antarctic Division where she has worked for two decades and is best known for her research on penguins on the Antarctic Continent: “Dr Wienecke is highly regarded on the world stage and should be applauded for her long-term work with seabirds, particularly penguins, often at remote field locations in cramped and uncomfortable conditions and at the mercy of extreme weather conditions.”

However, she has also worked with albatrosses and petrels, both on land at sea, co-publishing on mitigating seabird bycatch on longliners (working closely with fellow Australian Antarctic Medal Awardee, Graham Robertson) and on field work conducted on Chilean islands (see below).  Recently Barb has been supporting the Albatrosses and Petrel Agreement by contributing several illustrated texts to the ACAP Breeding Site Series.

Barb Wienecke on Isla Diego de Almagro, Chile in 2001

Selected References:

Hindell, M.A., Bost, C.A., Charrassin, J.B., Gales, N., Lea, M.A., Goldsworthy, S., Page, B., Robertson, G., Wienecke, W., O'Toole, M. & Guinet, C. 2011.  Foraging habitats of top predators, and areas of ecological significance, on the Kerguelen Plateau.  In: Duhamel, G. & Welsford, D. (Eds).  The Kerguelen Plateau: Marine Ecosystem and Fisheries.  Société d'Ichtyologie 2011: 203-215.

Johnson, J. 2013.  Australian Antarctic Medal celebrates 25 years.  Australian Antarctic Magazine 25: 24-25.

Lawton, K., Robertson, G., Valencia, J., Wienecke, B. & Kirkwood, R. 2003.  The status of Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophrys at Diego de Almagro Island, Chile.  Ibis 145: 502-505.

Melvin, E.F., Sullivan, B., Robertson, G. & Wienecke, B. 2004.  A review of the effectiveness of streamer lines as a seabird by-catch mitigation technique in longline fisheries and CCAMLR streamer line requirements.  CCAMLR Science 11: 189-201.

Pyper, W. 2013.  Penguin Barb.  Australian Antarctic Magazine.

Robertson, G., McNeill, M., Smith, N., Wienecke, B., Candy, S & Olivier, F 2006.  Fast sinking (integrated weight) longlines reduce mortality of white-chinned petrels (Procellaria aequinoctialis) and sooty shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) in demersal longline fisheries.  Biological Conservation 132: 458-471.

Robertson, G., Moreno, C., Arata, J.A., Candy, S.G., Lawton, K., Valencia, J., Wienecke, B., Kirkwood, R., Taylor, P. & Suazo, C.G. 2014.  Black-browed albatross numbers in Chile increase in response to reduced mortality in fisheries.  Biological Conservation 169: 319-333.

Seco Pon, J.P., Wienecke, B. & Robertson, G. 2007.  First record of Salvin's Albatross (Thalassarche salvini) on the Patagonian Shelf.  Notornis 54: 49-51.

Sullivan, B.J., Kibel, P., Robertson, G., Kibel, B., Goren, M., Candy, S.G. & Wienecke, B. 2012.  Safe Leads for safe heads: safer line weights for pelagic longline fisheries.  Fisheries Research 134-136: 125-132.

Wienecke, B., Leaper, R., Hay, I. & van den Hoff, J. 2009.  Retrofitting historical data in population studies: Southern Giant Petrels in the Australian Antarctic Territory.  Endangered Species Research 8: 157-164.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 30 January 2013

The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation will consider a seabird bycatch mitigation measure at its 2nd Commission Meeting this week

The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) is an intergovernmental organisation committed to the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the fishery resources of the South Pacific Ocean and in so doing safeguarding the marine ecosystems in which the resources occur.  The Organization is holding its Second Commission Meeting in Manta, Ecuador over 27-31 January (click here for the provisional agenda)

At the meeting New Zealand will present a proposal for a Conservation and Management Measure to reduce seabird bycatch within waters covered by the Convention.  The proposal takes note of best-practice seabird bycatch mitigation measures for trawl and demersal longline fisheries established by ACAP.

The proposed measure if adopted will aim to minimise the incidental interaction with seabirds in demersal longlines by demersal longline vessels implementing the combined use of the following measures:

Use of an appropriate line-weighting regime to maximise hook sink rates close to vessel sterns to reduce the availability of baits to seabirds;

Actively deterring birds from baited hooks by means of bird-scaring lines; and

Setting at night between the times of nautical twilight (as illustrated).

Best-practice seabird mitigation specifications proposed for trawl fishing include deployment of twin bird-scaring lines as well as avoiding discharges during both shooting and hauling.

The Albatross and Petrel Agreement will be represented at the meeting by its Executive Secretary, Warren Papworth.

Reference:

New Zealand 2014.  Proposed Conservation and Management Measure for minimising bycatch of seabirds in the SPRFMO Convention AreaCOMM-02-08.  9 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 28 January 2014

Sexing albatrosses and petrels from faecal and tissue samples utilizing real time PCR assays

Cassandra Faux (Australian Antarctic Division) and colleagues present a method for sexing seabirds from tissue and faecal samples in the journal Theriogenology, tested on Black-browed Thalassarche melanophris and Shy T. cauta Albatrosses and Northern Macronectes halli and Southern M. giganteus Giant Petrels.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Sex identification of birds is of great interest in ecological studies, however this can be very difficult in many species because their external features are almost monomorphic between the sexes.  Molecular methodology has simplified this process but limitations still occur with widely accepted methods using PCR and gel electrophoresis, especially when applied to degraded DNA.  Real time PCR assays are emerging as a more efficient, sensitive and higher throughput means of identification, but there are very few techniques validated utilising faecal samples and small target sizes.  We present a real time melt curve analysis assay targeting a small region of the CHD-1 gene allowing for high-throughput, sensitive, specific and easy to interpret sexing results for a variety of southern ocean seabirds using faecal and tissue samples.”

Shy Albatrosses on Albatross Island, photographed by Rachael Alderman

Reference:

Faux, C., McInnes, J.C. & Jarman, S.N. 2014.  High-throughput real time PCR and melt curve analysis for sexing southern ocean seabirds using faecal samples.  Theriogenology doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2013.12.021

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 27 January 2014

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