Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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New Zealand’s Southern Seabird Solutions Trust writes about World Albatross Day, 2020

The inaugural World Albatross Day (WAD 2020) will be held on 19 June next year to help raise awareness of the continuing conservation crisis facing the world’s albatrosses and petrels.  The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) has been reaching out to conservation bodies in countries that support albatross breeding populations to enlist their support for the day.  The latest NGO to respond is the New Zealand-based Southern Seabird Solutions Trust (SSST).

The charitable trust, an alliance since 2002 between government, environmental and seafood industry organisations, works with commercial and recreational fishers, associated agencies and industry to reduce harm to New Zealand seabirds from fishing in both domestic and international waters.  “We deliver projects that contribute to reducing the effects of fishing on seabirds in fisheries in the Southern Hemisphere” (click here).

SSST

The SSST’s Management Committee has written to ACAP Latest News:

“Many New Zealanders are fortunate to be able to earn their living, or spend their leisure time, on the water amongst the world’s most incredible diversity of seabirds.  Bird enthusiasts dream of visiting our shores.  With this privilege comes a responsibility for all New Zealanders.  We aspire to take care of these birds and ensure they thrive; and to lead the way to help other countries follow suit, as well as learn from them.  We are very pleased to support World Albatross Day as a way of connecting the global community to these special creatures.”

The founder and Convenor of the Trust, and member of its Management Committee, is Janice Molloy, who has been active in working to reduce seabird bycatch in especially longline fisheries since the early days late last century when news of albatrosses drowning on hooks first reached the international stage.  Janice (then with New Zealand’s Department of Conservation) and I attended and contributed to meetings of CCAMLR’s then Ad Hoc Working Group on Incidental Mortality Arising from Longline Fishing (WG-IMALF) in the mid 1990s and met again in Tokyo, Japan as members of a technical working group to finalize the text of FAO’s International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries (IPOA-Seabirds) in 1998.

Since then Janice and the SSST have continued to work towards reducing seabird bycatch in varied ways.  Most recently the Trust is helping address the high levels of at-sea mortality that are causing a drastic population decline of the nominate subspecies of the Endangered Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis that breeds only on New Zealand’s Antipodes Island – but forages on the High Seas in the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea outside the breeding season (click here).  The SSST is partnering with Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, two Olympic gold and silver medallists and world sailing champions, to raise funds for GPS trackers to follow Antipodean Albatrosses at sea.  Peter and Blair have recently established a marine conservation foundation called the Live Ocean Charitable Trust and this is their first project.  At its 10th Meeting held in New Zealand in 2017 ACAP’s Advisory Committee endorsed the inclusion of Antipodean Albatrosses breeding on Antipodes Island as a Priority Population for conservation management.

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An Antipodean Albatross pair on Antipodes Island, photograph by Erica Sommer

With thanks to Janice Molloy.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 20 December 2019

ACAP Executive Secretary Christine Bogle graduates with a PhD from New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington

This month ACAP Executive Secretary, Christine Bogle, travelled from Hobart in Tasmania, where the ACAP Secretariat is housed, to her home country of New Zealand to attend an important event: her graduation as a Doctor of Philosophy on 11 December!  Back in July Christine completed revision of her PhD thesis entitled “Democratisation in Asia-Pacific Monarchies: Drivers and Impediments” and submitted it to the Victoria University of Wellington’s deposit library.  However, she was asked not to use her new title until this month’s graduation ceremony when the degree was officially conferred.

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Dr Christine Bogle with two of her three sons, Toby (left) and Thomas (right) after graduation

Last week Christine e-mailed ACAP Latest News: “We had the graduation ceremony on Wednesday evening and then on Thursday there was a parade through town by all the graduates.  Good weather throughout.  Tonight I am going to have a party!  On Sunday I will fly back to Hobart.”

Christine commenced  research towards her PhD in Political Science in the university’s School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations in 2014.  Previously she had an over 30-year career as a diplomat with New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

Back in August Christine travelled to Nukuʻalofa in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific where she was the New Zealand High Commissioner from 2008 to 2010.  There she gave an invited lecture on her completed thesis that looked at the monarchies of Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand and Tonga (click here).

An electronic version of Christine’s PhD’s thesis is available from the VUW Library’s Research Archive.  Click here for the thesis abstract.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 19 December 2019

World Albatross Day and the Gough Island Restoration Programme

The inaugural World Albatross Day (‘WAD2020’) will take place on 19 June next year, with the theme “Eradicating Island Pests”.  The theme was chosen in part because next year will see an attempt to eradicate the House Mouse Mus musculus on Gough Island in the South Atlantic by the Gough Island Restoration Programme.  GIRP is being led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) along with 12 governmental and non-governmental partners.  The intention is to drop poison bait by helicopter over the whole island during the austral winter months of June to August.

The three albatross species that breed on Gough are all at risk to mice, most notably the near-endemic and Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena, where attacks on chicks in winter have massively lowered breeding success over the last two decades at least.  More recently mouse attacks on breeding adults have been recorded, as well on chicks and adults of the Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos.  Both threatened species are illustrated on ACAP’s recently released WAD2020’ poster by award-winning illustrator, Owen Davey.

ACAP Latest News has been in touch with several members of GIRP’s field team to gain their thoughts on the crisis in albatross conservation and the value of a World Albatross Day ahead of the planned eradication exercise.

Pete McClelland Tui

New Zealander and island pest eradication expert Pete McClelland (left) is GIRP’s Operations Manager and will lead the field team, travelling to the island in May.  He writes to ALN: “Albatross represent everything that is special about the Southern Ocean.  From the impressive size of the great albatrosses as they glide effortlessly across thousands of kilometres of ocean to the haunting cry of a Light mantled Albatross as it undertakes its courtship flight.   It is impossible not to be moved by these birds. To lose them is to lose part of our soul.  World Albatross Day reminds us of just how important they are and why we must work to protect them.”

Three GIRP team members, Chris Jones, Alexis Osborne and Michelle Risi are already on Gough, where they are monitoring the seabirds, recording attacks by mice and helping prepare for the arrival of the main eradication team next year.

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GIRP field team members, Chris Jones, Alexis Osborne and Michelle Risi display their WAD banner on the edge of the Gonydale Tristan Albatross monitoring colony on Gough Island

Chris writes to ALN: “Until relatively recently I did not know what albatrosses were, and I think most people do not know much about them.  Learning of this wonderful group of birds and studying them over the past few years has infinitely enriched my life.  If more people learn about albatrosses, this world will be better for it.”

Alexis has also expressed his feelings: “To see an albatross soar the ocean so effortlessly is an awe-inspiring experience that one can only dream of joining them.  Unfortunately, many of these magnificent birds are threatened and if we don't do anything about it we stand to rob future generations of such awe-inspiring experiences.  World Albatross Day is a great way to
give a voice to those that cannot speak.”

Michelle also feels strongly: “Working with albatrosses has changed my life, so now I am working to change theirs.  I hope World Albatross Day can make people feel for albatrosses the same way they do for penguins.  They are equally deserving of our awe and attention and are in desperate need of action as they face a conservation crisis.”

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Is Two RSPB conservation scientists who form part of the GIRP team are Steffen Oppel (left) and Antje Steinfurth (right).  Steffen writes: “Every day of the year at least one albatross is killed somewhere in the world by a fishing hook or an invasive animal that people brought to a remote island.  World Albatross Day can remind us what harm our actions inflict on the greatest ocean wanderers.”

Antje’s comment follows: “World Albatross Day not only celebrates these magnificent ocean voyagers but also creates much needed awareness of their precarious conservation status.  Whereas some threats albatrosses face can be addressed by boots-on-the-ground conservationists, others cannot.  The protection and preservation of albatrosses ultimately is a shared mission on an international scale and it is incumbent on the international community to play an increasingly active role to ensure their populations will thrive into the future.”

The eradication campaign gets underway in mid February when the New Zealand-registered yacht Evohe is scheduled to leave Cape Town for Gough with GIRP team members aboard.  ACAP Latest News will post updates on progress as information come to hand.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 December 2019

The Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission adopts guidelines on the safe handling and release of seabirds

The 16th Regular Session of the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC-16) was held earlier this month in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where it adopted guidelines on the safe handling and release of seabirds. ACAP was represented at the meeting by its Executive Secretary, Christine Bogle who writes to ALN:

“The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels is very pleased that the WCPFC -16 has adopted the proposal put forward by the New Zealand Delegation (WCPF16-2019-DP07 - PROPOSAL FOR ADOPTION OF SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION – SAFE HANDLING AND RELEASE GUIDELINES FOR SEABIRDS) for non-binding guidelines on the safe release of seabirds caught alive on hooks.  These guidelines are based on ACAP advice and will help ensure that birds caught alive on hooks will have a better chance of survival.  These guidelines can be used not only for hook removal but also as general guidelines on the safe handling of injured seabirds on board.”  The Executive Secretary further noted that ACAP is working on developing safe handling and release guidelines for birds entangled in purse-seine nets.

Hook removal 1

Hook removal 2

Read more here where the WWF is quoted to say the newly adopted guidelines “should be mandatory and subject to clear monitoring and compliance review.”

ACAP submitted a paper (WCPFC16-2019-OP08 - ACAP STATEMENT ON REDUCING SEABIRD BYCATCH IN PELAGIC LONGLINE FISHERIES) to the meeting.  Its shortened abstract follows:

“The incidental mortality of seabirds in pelagic longline fisheries continues to be a serious global concern, especially for threatened albatrosses and petrels.  ACAP presented a background paper (WCPFC-SC15-2019/EB-IP-03 [ACAP advice for reducing the impact of pelagic longline fishing operations on seabirds]) to the meeting of the Fifteenth WCPFC Scientific Committee in August 2019 in which we provided an update on ACAP’s advice on mitigation of seabird bycatch in pelagic longline fisheries.  The paper summarised updated ACAP advice on mitigation and identified new areas of focus to address the continuing conservation crisis facing albatrosses and petrels, and the need for urgent and increased efforts to counter this crisis.  This paper reiterates for the WCPFC Commission the main points made in that paper, including ACAP’s continuing emphasis on exploring with our colleagues in Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, and others, ways to work together more effectively to reduce bycatch of albatrosses and petrels in fishing operations and improve the conservation status of these threatened seabirds.”

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 December 2019

Hybridization and cuckoldry between Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses

Genevieve Jones (FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa) and colleagues have published in the journal Antarctic Science on a hybrid Black-browed x Grey-headed Albatross at Marion Island.

“A vagrant black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophris bred with a grey-headed albatross T. chrysostoma on Marion Island at least four times between 2000 and 2009 (and continued to return to the colony until at least 2019). The eggs failed to hatch in three breeding attempts, but the pair fledged a chick in the 2006/07 breeding season. Genetic sexing identified the black-browed albatross as female and she shared all eight sampled microsatellite alleles with the chick, whereas the grey-headed albatross social parent did not match the chick. The fledgling was banded and re-sighted in its natal breeding colony in 2016 and 2018, when it displayed an intermediate black-browed x grey-headed albatross phenotype, similar to a putative hybrid photographed at sea off Australia. These results suggest that the black-browed albatross cuckolded its social mate with another grey-headed albatross in 2006/07. The failures of the other three breeding attempts at the egg stage possibly indicate genetic incompatibility with the social partner.”

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The hybrid Black-browed x Grey-headed Albatross on Marion Island, photograph by Chris Jones

Read an earlier ACAP Latest News post on hybridization in albatrosses.

With thanks to Chris Jones.

Reference:

Jones, M.G.W., Techow, N.M.S., Risi, M.M., Jones, C.W., Hagens, Q.A., Taylor, F. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  Hybridization and cuckoldry between black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses.  Antarctic Science doi.org/10.1017/S0954102019000506.

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John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 16 December 2019

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