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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Citizen scientists show some albatross and petrel species are declining off south-eastern Australia

Simon Gorta (Centre for Ecosystem Science, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia) and colleagues have published in the journal Biological Conservation on changes over 17 years in numbers of pelagic seabirds off south-eastern Australia, including of nine species of ACAP-listed albatrosses and petrels.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Many seabird communities are declining around the world, a trend frequently linked to climate change and human impacts on habitat and prey. Time series observations of seabirds away from breeding colonies are generally rare, which limits our understanding of long-term changes for conservation actions. We analysed a dedicated citizen science dataset of pelagic seabird abundance (86 species-30 used for modelling analysis-from 385 trips) from two locations over 17 years (2000-2016) and a third for seven years, over the continental shelf and slope of southeastern Australia. To estimate temporal trends and environmental drivers, we used generalised additive modelling and species archetype modelling for groups. Almost half (43%) of the most abundant seabird species declined in our study area over the 17 years. The declines may be associated with human-induced ecosystem change and represent poleward shifts in distribution out of our study area, changes in population abundance, or both. Winter-dominant groups, primarily species rarely frequenting warmer water, were often negatively associated with SST anom, while summer-dominant groups, composed of species more tolerant of temperate and tropical environments, were generally positively associated with SST anom. Widespread local declines in seabird populations are of increasing concern. Understanding the extent to which these observed declines represent real declines in abundance, or range shifts, should be a priority. Changing sea temperatures are probably contributing to both. These results from the coast of southeastern Australia need to be placed in the context of the highly mobile study organisms and the vast spatial scale of the ocean. Long-term citizen science observations, from an array of locations around the world, promise to provide valuable insights into seabird ecology, playing a key part in seabird conservation.”

Wandering Albatross at sea, photograph by Kirk Zufelt

With thanks to Simon Gorta.

Read a popular article on the publication.

Reference:

Gorta, S., Smith, J.A., Everett, J.D., Kingsford, R.T., Cornwell, W.K., Suthers, I., Epstein, H., McGovern, R., McLachlan, G., Roderick, M., Smith, L., Williams, D. & Callaghan, C.T. 2019.  Pelagic citizen science data reveal declines of seabirds off south-eastern Australia.  Biological Conservation 235: 226-235.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 July 2019

Separating Short-tailed, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters at sea in the North Atlantic

Robert Flood (FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa) and Ashley Fisher have published in the journal British Birds giving criteria to separate three shearwater species at sea; one being the dark-plumaged form of the ACAP-listed and Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Short-tailed Shearwater Ardenna tenuirostris is an abundant species of the Pacific Ocean. We reviewed records for the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and suggest that a regular pattern of movement in these oceans is hitherto unrecognised.  It follows that the vagrancy potential of Short-tailed Shearwater to the North Atlantic probably is greater than suggested by the few documented records.  Short-tailed may have been overlooked or confused with the similar-looking Sooty Shearwater A. grisea and, in the northeast Atlantic, dark-plumaged Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus.  Criteria for the separation of these three species at sea are presented in a bid to establish a clearer picture of the status of Short-tailed Shearwater in the North Atlantic.  Separation of Short-tailed from Sooty Shearwater builds on existing criteria; characters for separation from dark-plumaged Balearic Shearwater are new.”

Short-tailed Shearwater at sea, photograph by Peter Ryan

Reference:

Flood, R.[K.] & Fisher, A.  2019.  Identification of Short-tailed Shearwater in the North Atlantic Ocean.  British Birds 112: 250-263.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 16 July 2019

The World Seabird Union forms a committee for seabirds and plastic pollution

In 2018 the World Seabird Union approved the formation of a Specialist Committee on Seabirds and Plastic Pollution (SCSPP) under the Chair of Stephanie Avery-Gomm.

The Specialist Committee was established to foster a community of practice for researchers studying plastic pollution and seabirds. This is not exclusive to plastic ingestion, although that is the primary focus of the work currently underway.

The SCSPP’s aims are to:

Publish peer-reviewed papers that standardize and guide research aiming to understand the impacts of plastic pollution on seabirds; and

Provide a central base for knowledge exchange.

Plastic spoon and latex balloon and plastic fragments removed from a Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus (click here)

The following information comes from the (UK) Seabird Group Newsletter No. 141 of June 2019.

“Plastic pollution is an emerging issue of concern, which is attracting increasing attention.  Although the impacts of plastic pollution may, for many species, pale in comparison to threats associated with bycatch, invasive species, and climate change, an increasing number of species are found to ingest plastic, with yet unknown consequences.  The members of this committee are a group of international seabird researchers collaborating on research regarding seabird plastic ingestion. We represent world experts on the issue across North America, Europe and Australia/New Zealand” [but not from Africa or Asia].

Current SCSPP members are Stephanie Avery-Gomm, Alex Bond, Stephanie Borrelle, Elisa Bravo Rebolledo, Sjúrður Hammer, Mark Mallory, Susanne Kühn, Jennifer Lavers, Jennifer Provencher and Jan van Franeker.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 15 July 2019

World Albatross Day issues a banner challenge

At its most recent meeting (AC11) ACAP’s Advisory Committee expressed support for a proposal to hold a World Albatross Day to aid in giving greater visibility to the conservation crisis that continues to face albatrosses and petrels.  An intersessional working was formed under the Chair of Verónica López from Chile to further the proposal.  At its first meeting held at the time of AC11 it was agreed that the day should be marked annually on 19 June from next year, the date in 2001 that the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels was signed in Australia. 

As part of publicizing World Albatross Day prior to its inauguration field teams working with albatrosses at breeding localities are being requested to make a suitably-worded banner advertising the 19 June event and drawing attention to the birds’ conservation crisis.  The banner would then be photographed with the field workers in a suitable setting close to albatrosses.  Requests to join the ‘banner challenge’ are emphasizing that local regulations in respect to minimum approach distances to albatrosses and their nests should be adhered to and that birds (and their chicks) should not show signs of disturbance (or be held or restrained) when the photos are taken.

 Chris Jones works on the banner in the laboratory on Gough Island

Michelle Risi of the Gough Island Restoration Programme, and a World Albatross Day Working Group member, is leading on the banner challenge from Gough Island where she is based until October 2020, corresponding with researchers and managers working with albatrosses around the world.  To set the scene the three-person field team on Gough Island has already made and displayed their banner within the long-term study colony of Critically Endangered Tristan Albatrosses Diomedea dabbenena in Gonydale.

 

It’s quite a climb to Gonydale with a small river to cross on the way: Chris Jones and Michelle Risi negotiate Gough Island's thick lowland vegetation

 

The very first World Albatross Day banner is displayed in the field by (from left) researchers Alexis Osborne, Michelle Risi and Chris Jones while making a regular monitoring visit to a study colony on Gough Island.  The Tristan Albatross chick remains undisturbed on its mud and vegetation nest

Photographs by Michelle Risi

With the differences in timing of breeding seasons of albatrosses around the world, field teams may need to wait until ‘their’ species commences breeding before heading out with a banner.  ACAP Latest News thus hopes there will be a spread of banner photography from now into next year and looks forward to posting the photographs along with their stories.

 John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer & Michelle Risi, Gough Island Restoration Programme, 12 July 2019

Getting rid of pigs, cats and mice: eradication preparation summer goes well on New Zealand’s Auckland Island

Field teams led by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) have spent four months of the last (2018/19) austral summer on sub-Antarctic Auckland Island conducting work to inform the ambitious pest eradication project that aims to rid the sub-Antarctic island of its feral pigs and cats and House Mice (click here).  An online report of initial findings of the summer’s field work is now available, and is summarized here.

Three main research programmes were carried out to test various eradication methods, one for each of the mammal pests:

Feral Pigs.  To test island-wide techniques a temporary electrified fence was erected to cut off the 930-ha Falla Peninsula.  The enclosed pigs were then largely removed by aerial hunting from a helicopter aided by a thermal imaging camera.  Ground hunting with a team of five hunters with 10 dogs in a trial then followed.

Feral pig on Auckland Island, photograph by Pete McClelland

House Mice.  Following the successful removal of the peninsula’s pigs a mouse team aerially dispersed non-toxic bait to test the use of a low bait density – and in summer as opposed to the usual winter timing.  Results of both these variants to usual methods for mice were deemed to be successful.

Feral Cats.  Leg-hold trapping and GPS collars were used to track the movements of 17 cats.  Trail cameras were also tested as an aid to assessing presence and scats were collected, with the aid of a dog, for DNA analysis.

The summer report concludes as to what comes next:

“Data analysis, reporting, further trials investigating the use of cat specific toxins on the island, working out how to operate in the Subantarctic environment during the winter and most importantly working with partners and Treasury to source funds and build support for the project to become operational.  This is an enormously ambitious project in a wild and ruggedly beautiful place.  There’s a lot of work still to do, but hopefully in ten years’ time we can leave Auckland Island to the seabirds and megaherbs that should be calling it home.”

Read an earlier news item by Predator Free NZ, and watch a six-minute video clip that gives further information of the summer field season.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 July 2019

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