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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Plastic gloves for dinner? Marine debris regurgitated by South Atlantic albatrosses is thought derived from South American fisheries

Richard Phillips and Claire Waluda (British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK) have published in the open-access journal Environment International showing that marine debris associated with albatrosses and giant petrels breeding in the South Atlantic has increased since the 1990s, although current plastic loads recorded in the study seem unlikely to have an impact at the population level.

The paper’s abstract follows:

Increasing amounts of anthropogenic debris enter the ocean because of mismanagement in coastal communities and, despite a global ban on deliberate dumping, also from vessels, endangering wildlife. Assessing marine plastic pollution directly is challenging, and an alternative is to use seabirds as bioindicators. Our analyses of long time-series (26-years) revealed substantial variation in the amount, characteristics and origin of marine debris (mainly macroplastics and mesoplastics, and excluding fishing gear) associated with seabirds at South Georgia, and, for two species, long-term increases in incidence since 1994. Annual debris recovery rates (items per capita) were 14 × higher in wandering albatrosses Diomedea exulans, and 6 × higher in grey-headed albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma and giant petrels Macronectes spp., than in black-browed albatrosses T. melanophris, partly related to differences in egestion (regurgitation), which clears items from the proventriculus. Although some debris types were common in all species, wandering albatrosses and giant petrels ingested higher proportions that were food-related or generic wrapping, gloves, clear or mixed colour, and packaged in South America. This was highly likely to originate from vessels, including the large South American fishing fleets with which they overlap. Debris associated with the two smaller albatrosses was more commonly shorter, rigid (miscellaneous plastic and bottle/tube caps), and packaged in East Asia. Grey-headed albatrosses are exposed to large and increasing amounts of user plastics transported from coastal South America in the Subantarctic Current, or discarded from vessels and circulating in the South Atlantic Gyre, whereas the lower debris ingestion by black-browed albatrosses suggests that plastic pollution in Antarctic waters remains relatively low. Current plastic loads in our study species seem unlikely to have an impact at the population level, but the results nevertheless affirm that marine plastics are a major, trans-boundary animal-welfare and environmental issue that needs to be addressed by much-improved waste-management practices and compliance-monitoring both on land and on vessels in the south Atlantic.”


Wamdering Albatrosses on Bird Island in the South Atlantic, photograph by Richard Phillips

With thanks to Richard Phillips.


Phillips, R.A. & Waluda, C. 2020.  Albatrosses and petrels at South Georgia as sentinels of marine debris input from vessels in the southwest Atlantic Ocean.  Environment International 136.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 January 2020

Island Conservation will support World Albatross Day by helping eradicate House Mice on Gough and Midway Islands this year

The mission of the international non-profit organization Island Conservation is to prevent extinctions by removing invasive species from islands.  It works with local communities, government management agencies and conservation organizations on islands with the greatest potential for preventing the extinction of globally threatened species.  “We develop comprehensive and humane plans for the removal of invasive species, implement the removal of invasive species; and conduct research to better understand how invasive species removal changes and benefits island ecosystems and to inform future conservation action”.

Island Conservation

Island Conservation is headquartered in the United States with field offices in Australia, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, New Zealand and Puerto Rico.  Since its founding in 1994 Island Conservation and its partners have successfully restored 64 islands worldwide, benefiting 1195 populations of 487 species and subspecies (click here).

Gregg Howald, Island Conservation’s Director of Global and External Affairs has written to ACAP Latest News:

“We are proud to be celebrating World Albatross Day while implementing projects this year to remove invasive House Mice from Midway and Gough Islands in partnership with the United States Fish & Wildlife Service and the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  These projects will help restore the breeding habitat of six species of albatrosses.  Restoration of breeding habitat through removal of invasive predators is a proven conservation tool that can have lasting and permanent benefits for breeding marine birds, including albatrosses.  The eradication of invasive species from islands removes one of the many pressures these birds face, and we are proud to be contributing to the successes of these globally significant programmes around the world.”

Gregg Howald

Gregg Howald, Island Conservation’s Director of Global and External Affairs

This year ACAP has chosen the overall theme “Eradicating Island Pests” to mark the inauguration of World Albatross Day on 19 June this year.  By then the eradication efforts on both Gough and Midway will either be underway or in the last stages of planning.  Although their success will not be immediately known, all who celebrate World Albatross Day 2020 with ACAP will surely be wishing the two field teams the very best of luck and an end to the islands’ ‘killer’ mice.

With thanks to Emily Heber & Gregg Howald, Island Conservation.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 13 January 2020

Midway’s Short-tailed Albatrosses, George and Geraldine, hatch their latest egg

George and Geraldine, the globally Vulnerable Short-tailed Albatross or ‘Golden Gooney’ Phoebastria albatrus solitary pair on Midway Atoll’s Sand Island, hatched their latest egg on 2 January.  George had taken up the final incubation shift from Geraldine just four days earlier on 29 December; the egg is reported as being laid on 28 October (click here).  Both birds were first seen in the current breeding season on the same day of 23 October last year.  ACAP Latest News assumes they had arrived unnoticed earlier than this to allow for mating and the usual (for procellariiforms) egg-making ‘honeymoon’ trip or pre-laying exodus of around 10 days or more to sea by the female.

Short tailed Albatross Midway 

Short tailed Albatross Midway V. Ternisian.2

George with its recently hatched chick, photographs by V. Ternisian

Read what is known of George and Geraldine’s history and previous breeding attempts (they successfully fledged their first chick in the previous 2018/19 season) here.  Intriguing to note the synchrony of breeding between the two seasons, in 2018/19 their egg hatched on 3 January (although it should be noted hatching can be a lengthy process lasting more than a day, so the exact day of the chick finally leaving the shell may be difficult to record).

Meanwhile, Midway's other famous pair, 69-something Wisdom and mate Akeakamai, the Laysan Albatrosses P. immutabilis, are taking a 'gap year', having not laid an egg this season after being seen back together in Sand Island last November (click here).

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 10 January 2020

BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force has released its 2018/19 Annual Report

The Albatross Task Force is an international team of seabird bycatch mitigation experts led by BirdLife International and its UK’s partner, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).  The task force released its 2018/19 annual report in October last year.  In the absence of a summary in the document, information follows from a media release.

 “It has been yet another eventful year for our Albatross Task Force (ATF) teams and we have lots of exciting news to share with you!  In the attached ATF annual progress report you can read all about our achievements in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Namibia and South Africa between April 2018-March 2019.

All over the world, our ATF teams are focusing ever more on ensuring that national government agencies are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to help protect albatrosses at sea and sustain fleet-wide reductions into the future.  In Namibia, the ATF has trained 75% of national fisheries observers and the data they have been collecting suggest that bycatch rates have dropped by over 90% in the demersal longline fleet since the introduction of regulations in 2015!  Alongside similar reductions achieved in the South African hake trawl fleet, big leaps have clearly been made for albatrosses and petrels in southern Africa.  Nonetheless, mitigation compliance remains a challenge and our teams in Brazil, Chile and South Africa have been working closely with fishers to test and develop new mitigation measures that are better suited to their needs.

The past year has also seen an unprecedented collaboration take place between our ATF teams in the Southern Cone, with instructors from Argentina sharing their experience of mitigating seabird bycatch on a government trawl research vessel in Chile.  This has led to an increased commitment to seabird conservation by Chile’s government.  This is of great importance as trawl fleets in Chile have to date been able to operate in the absence of any seabird bycatch mitigation measures.  Many lessons can be learned from neighbouring Argentina, where legislation requiring the use of bird-scaring lines came into force in May 2018.  Our ATF teams therefore aim to continue to facilitate this transnational cooperation moving forward.”

Interested persons can support the Albatross Task Force here

With thanks to Nina da Rocha, Albatross Task Force Project Officer

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 09 January 2010

A WAD2020 banner gets to Grey-headed Albatross Ridge on Marion Island

Back in October last year doctoral student Stefan Schoombie with fellow researchers on South Africa’s Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean took their home-made World Albatross Day banner to Ship’s Cove to display next to some breeding Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria fusca (click here).

Recently Stefan with his wife Janine walked from the research station where they stay to Grey-headed Albatross Ridge in the south of the island.  From my own experience this trek can take up to a full day, over mostly difficult and hilly terrain – and often in poor weather.  Carrying their original WAD2020 banner made from a black-out curtain and its poles all the way is not going to be appealing.  No matter, there is a field hut next to the ridge and the Schoombies used what materials were available there to make a banner to display next to a colony of Grey-headed Albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma on the ridge.

Marion GHA2.Stefan SchoombieMarion GHA2.Stefan Schoombie

Making the WAD2020 banner in the field hut at Grey-headed Albatross Ridge

Marion GHA4.Stefan Schoombie

Stefan and Janine Schoombie display their new World Albatross Day banner next to a small group of breeding Grey-headed Albatrosses on Marion Island

Immediately below the ridge is the partially vegetated tumbled lava of Santa Rosa Valley.  Grey-headed Albatrosses, including fledglings, occasionally crash land in the lava field and may not then be able to fly out, leading to their death.  While Stefan is studying mainly Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans through the University of Cape Town for his PhD, Janine’s research is with the University of Pretoria’s Department of Plant and Soil Science.  She writes to ACAP Latest News: “The project we are working on looks at the effect of wind on the terrestrial ecology of the island.  My research on the Grey-headed Albatrosses focuses on finding out how the wind influences their flight capabilities around Grey-headed Albatross Ridge and how changes in wind patterns (as a consequence of climate change) might affect them in the future.”  Best wishes for her and Stefan’s research!

Grey Headed Albatross Hut Black browed Albatross Michelle Jones

The field hut from Grey-headed Albatross Ridge on Marion Island. The tumbled black lava below it can trap fledging abatrosses.

  The Black-browed Albatross depicted is a regular vagant among the Grey-headed Albatrosses (click here). Photograph by Michelle Risi

With thanks to Janine and Stefan Schoombie.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 08 January 2019

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