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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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

Seabird watchers photograph a banded Wandering Albatross from Marion Island off Tasmania

Seabird watchers on a ‘pelagic’ trip by Pauletta Charters out of Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania, Australia  on 5 May 2019 observed a banded great albatross Diomedea sp. at sea at 43° 10'S, 148° 16'E over 650 fathoms (1200 m) of water on the continental shelf edge.  The bird was photographed flying and on the water close to the vessel.  Examination of photographs after the trip allowed enough of the metal band number and lettering to be read, confirming it to be a South African (SAFRING) band no. J-26967.

Wandering Albatross J-26967 in Tasmanian waters, photograph by Rohan Clarke

Enough of the band is visible to deduce the bird's identity, photograph by Tim Bawden

SAFRING has confirmed that J-26967 was banded as a globally Vulnerable Wandering Albatross D. exulans chick on 23 July 2016 on Marion Island, two years and nine and a half months previously.  The Eaglehawk photos show the metal band was on the left leg, which is normal practice for chicks at Marion Island.  It had no colour band on its right leg; alphanumeric colour bands are only added to Marion Wanderers when they recruit to the breeding population and then only to birds in long-term study colonies.

The photograph of the bird in flight below allows an assessment of its wing moult.  Only the three outer primaries show signs of replacement, along with some median and lesser coverts, as well as the tertial greater coverts.  The secondaries and inner and middle primaries are all of the same age with no signs of moult.  This suggests the bird is a three-year old juvenile, which accords with the banding information.  Based on its notably large bill, it is thought likely to be a male.

Wandering Albatross J-26967 in flight off Tasmania, photograph by Rohan Clarke

Pauletta Charters’ trips out of Eaglehawk Neck operate under the banner of BirdLife Australia.

With thanks to Tim Bawden, Rohan Clarke and Peter Ryan for information, photographs and opinions on moult.

Reference:

Prince, P.A., Weimerskirch, H., Huin, N. & Rodwell, S. 1999.  Molt, maturation of plumage and ageing in the Wandering Albatross.  The Condor 97: 58-72.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 10 July 2019

Good news for albatrosses and petrels: France’s sub-Antarctic islands are now a World Heritage Site

Terres australes antarctiques françaises (TAAF) submitted France’s nomination for the inscription of its sub-Antarctic islands (Amsterdam, Crozets, Kerguelen and Saint-Paul) on the List of Natural Sites of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention (WHC) in February 2018.  Following review, the World Heritage Committee at its 43rd Session meeting in Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan this month has now inscribed France’s sub-Antarctic islands on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The French Austral Lands and Seas comprise the largest of the rare emerged land masses in the southern Indian Ocean: the Crozet Archipelago, the Kerguelen Islands, Saint-Paul and Amsterdam Islands as well as 60 small sub-Antarctic islands. This “oasis” in the middle of the Southern Ocean covers an area of more than 67 million ha and supports one of the highest concentrations of birds and marine mammals in the world. In particular, it has the largest population of King Penguins and [Indian] Yellow-nosed albatrosses in the world. The remoteness of these islands from centres of human activity makes them extremely well-preserved showcases of biological evolution and a unique terrain for scientific research.” (click here).

 Endangered Amsterdam Albatrosses Diomedea amsterdamensis display on Amsterdam Island: a species endemic to the new World Heritage site

Photograph by Romain Buenadicha

South Africa’s Prince Edward Islands (Marion and Prince Edward) are now the only islands in the southern Indian Ocean that are not a World Heritage Site.  Overall, only South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)* also does not have World Heritage status, All the other islands commonly accepted as falling within the sub-Antarctic Region are World Heritage Natural Sites: Gough, Heard, Macquarie and the five New Zealand sub-Antarctic island groups. 

Following South Africa’s withdrawal of its nomination of the Prince Edwards after an unfavourable evaluation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), South Africa removed its sub-Antarctic islands from its Tentative List (originally listed in 2004).  Such a listing would be a prerequisite for any re-nomination of the Prince Edwards for Word Heritage status.

Read earlier ACAP Latest News postings on the successful French nomination here.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 09 July 2019

*A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (Islas Georgias del Sur y Islas Sandwich del Sur) and the surrounding maritime areas.

Studying sub-lethal effects of plastics in Flesh-footed and Short-tailed Shearwaters

Peter Puskic (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Newnham, Tasmania, Australia) and colleagues have published in the journal Conservation Physiology finding that fatty-acid levels in two shearwater species were not related to the amount of plastic items ingested.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Marine plastic pollution is increasing exponentially, impacting an expanding number of taxa each year across all trophic levels. Of all bird groups, seabirds display the highest plastic ingestion rates and are regarded as sentinels of pollution within their foraging regions. The consumption of plastic contributes to sub-lethal impacts (i.e. morbidity, starvation) in a handful of species. Additional data on these sub-lethal effects are needed urgently to better understand the scope and severity of the plastics issue. Here we explore the application of fatty acid (FA) analysis as a novel tool to investigate sub-lethal impacts of plastic ingestion on seabird body condition and health. Using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, we identified 37 individual FAs within the adipose, breast muscle and liver of flesh-footed (Ardenna carneipes) and short-tailed (Ardenna tenuirostris) shearwaters. We found high amounts of FA 16:0, 18:0, 20:5n3 (eicosapentaenoic acid), 22:6n3 (docosahexaenoic acid) and 18:1n9 in both species; however, the overall FA composition of the two species differed significantly. In flesh-footed shearwaters, high amounts of saturated and mono-unsaturated FAs (needed for fast and slow release energy, respectively) in the adipose and muscle tissues were related to greater bird body mass. While total FAs were not related to the amount of plastic ingested in either species, these data are a valuable contribution to the limited literature on FAs in seabirds. We encourage studies to explore other analytical tools to detect these sub-lethal impacts of plastic.”

Flesh-footed Shearwater, photograph by Barry Baker

Reference:

Puskic, P.S., Lavers, J.L., Adams, L.R., Grünenwald, M., Hutton, I. & Bond, A.L. 2019.  Uncovering the sub-lethal impacts of plastic ingestion by shearwaters using fatty acid analysis.  Conservation Physiology 7(1).  doi:10.1093/conphys/coz017.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 08 July 2019

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