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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Last breeding season in the face of mice? Incubating Tristan Albatrosses get counted for another year on Gough Island

Gough 2020 21 team

The current island field team, Vonica Perold, Roelf Daling and Kim Stevens, during the annual count of incubating Tristan Albatrosses, photograph by Kim Stevens

 With the delayed attempt to eradicate Gough’s House Mice now once more underway it is hoped that from next year the island’s Critically Endangered Tristan Albatrosses will be able to breed without having to face many of their chicks succumbing to night-time attacks during the austral winter- as expressed in a Facebook post by the UK’s Gough Island Restoration Programme (GIRP):

   Tristan Albatross Roelf Daling

A colour-banded Tristan Albatross reveals its egg during the annual count, photograph by Roelf Daling

“Numbers are in! Our team just returned from their island-wide count of incubating Tristan albatrosses and the total is 1439!  Due to mice predation, the breeding success of these gentle giants is exceptionally poor compared to similar species on rodent-free islands.  We aim to reverse the species’ fortunes by eradicating mice from Gough Island.  The only realistic chance of removing all the mice will be over the southern winter.  So, while we can’t prevent the loss of eggs and young chicks to mice this year, we do hope chicks which survive until the end of winter will then have a decent chance to fledge successfully.  And as adults start returning to the island in November for the onset of the next breeding season, this particular threat should hopefully have been removed once and for all!”

The Tristan Albatross, along with the equally Critically Endangered Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata of the Galapagos, have been chosen by ACAP as ‘feature species’ to support this year’s World Albatross Day on 19 June.  To this end 24 high-resolution posters suitable for display have been produced from three photographs of each species with texts in four languages, available for free downloading.  More artworks depicting both threatened species will follow as World Albatross Day approaches.

TRAL 03 English

A ‘WAD2021’ Tristan Albatross poster, photograph and design by Michelle Risi

Read about the threats facing the Tristan and the other albatrosses in illustrated species summaries produced for the general public and for learners as part of last year’s World Albatross Day celebrations.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 15 February 2021

Australia’s Lord Howe Island is flourishing following the rodent eradication project

Lord Howe Ian Hutton 

Lord Howe Island

In 2019, after a long period of discussion and planning, an operation to eradicate non-native Black Rats Rattus rattus and House Mice Mus musculus on Australia’s inhabited Lord Howe Island was carried out.  The Lord Howe Rodent Eradication Project included the use of over 20 000 poison bait boxes and the dropping of bait by helicopter away from areas of human habitation and activity over the southern winter.  As well as endemic land birds, the World Heritage Island supports breeding populations of burrowing petrels and shearwaters, all of which were known or thought likely to be deleteriously affected by the introduced predators.

The prevailing “rule of thumb” is that two years are allowed to pass before the success of an island eradication operation is officially announced.  This is to give sufficient time for any target animals possibly remaining to be discovered.  However, with only a few months to go before the two years are up it is notable that the natural environment on Lord Howe is flourishing.  No observations of rats, rebounding vegetation and invertebrate populations and the doubling of numbers of the endemic and Endangered Lord Howe Woodhen Hypotaenidia sylvestris (following their being taken into temporary captivity) are all welcome signs that have been recently reported.

Flesh footed Shearwater habitat Ian Hutton

 

Flesh-footed Shearwater pair and breeding habitat on Lord Howe Island

Photographs by Ian Hutton

As for the island’s procellariform seabirds, project biologist Terry O'Dwyer of the New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment states that “the breeding success rate of petrels on the island has jumped from 2 or 3 per cent to more than 70 per cent” following the eradication exercise.  Lord Howe supports breeding populations of Black-winged Pterodroma nigripennis and Providence P. solandri Petrels along with Flesh-footed Ardenna carneipes (a proposed candidate for ACAP listing), Wedge-tailed A. pacifica and Little Puffinus assimilis Shearwaters.

The likely success of the Lord Howe project, despite the earlier misgivings of some of the island’s human population, should provide lessons for eradications that might be planned for other inhabited islands, such as New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island and the United Kingdom’s Tristan da Cunha.  Both islands support ACAP-listed species that breed in the face of introduced predators.

Read more here.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 February 2021

UPDATED. Yacht arrives. The COVID-19-delayed eradication of House Mice on Gough gets going again with the first sailing of the year to the island

First sailing 1 February 1

The Pelagic Australis ready to sail from Cape Town Harbour

Following the cancelling of last year’s attempt to rid Gough of its House Mice that attack and kill many of the island’s seabirds – as a necessary consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic – the United Kingdom’s Gough Island Restoration Project announced last November its intention to make another attempt this year.  With the pandemic still raging globally it is good to report that the 2021 eradication exercise got going this week with the first sailing from Cape Town on Monday [1 February] on the yacht Pelagic Australis, as reported on the GIRP Facebook page:

“And they are off!  Fair winds and following seas to the first Gough-bound team members of the 2021 Restoration Project who set sail from Cape Town today!  The team and ship’s crew have all been living under quarantine for the last two weeks and had to pass multiple COVID-19 tests along their journeys before being allowed to board the ship.  We have many more COVID-19-related hurdles to navigate before the operation is completed, but we are delighted that the 2021 restoration is underway!”

First sailing 1 February 2

Leaving the inner harbour

Photographs from the GIRP Facebook page, courtesy of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

The Gough sailing comes in the same week as the commencement of duties of the project manager for the Mouse Free Marion project, which will be learning from GIRP as it works towards eradicating albatross-killing mice on South Africa’s Marion Island in 2023 (click here).

POSTSCRIPT: The yacht has reached Gough Island.

"After nine days of sailing half-way across the South Atlantic, our first team has just landed at Gough Island for the 2021 operation, so we're all very excited that this bodes well for navigating all the Covid restrictions and hurdles that running the operation this year may bring! Greeted by the G66 ‘overwinterers’, the restoration team will be getting straight on with the job of preparing everything needed before the operation can begin. First up, creating temporary additional sleeping quarters ready for the arrival of the remaining team members!" - GIRP Facebook page.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 February 2021, reposted 11 February 2021, updated 12 February 2021

Saving albatrosses from attack on a sub-Antarctic island: Mouse Free Marion appoints Anton Wolfaardt as its Project Manager

 Anton Wolfaardt Beauchene Isl BBA

Anton Wolfaardt with the huge Black-browed Albatross colony on Beauchêne Island, South Atlantic, photograph by Leigh Wolfaardt

South Africa’s sub-Antarctic Marion Island is overrun by introduced House Mice Mus musculus, which in the last two decades have taken to attacking and killing the island’s albatrosses and petrels, notably chicks of the globally threatened Grey-headed Thalassarche chrysostoma, Sooty Phoebetria fusca and Wandering Diomedea exulans Albatrosses (click here for previous ACAP Latest News posts on Marion’s mice).

 

Mice are eating Marion Island's seabirds: a BirdLife South Africa video

The Mouse Free Marion Project is a joint endeavour between the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and the environmental NGO BirdLife South Africa.  A separate entity, the Mouse-Free Marion NPC, has been set up to undertake this important work.  Following a feasibility study in 2013 by New Zealand island restoration expert John Parkes it currently aims to eradicate the mice in 2023.  Last year a call was made for “a highly qualified, dedicated and dynamic” Project Manager to review and refine the Mouse-Free Marion Project and its operational plans and assist with the appointment of the Operations Manager and the eradication team.

 Grey headed Albatross mouse wound Fitztitute

 

 

Grey headed HAlbatross mice injuries Ben Dilley

 

 

Mice attack and kill Grey-headed Albatross chicks on Marion Island, photographs by Ben Dilley and the FitzPatrick Institute

ACAP Latest News is now pleased to report that as of the beginning of the month the appointed MFM Project Manager is South African Anton Wolfaardt, well known to the ACAP community as Co-convenor of its Seabird Working Group (although a position from which he will now stand down to concentrate on the Marion mice).

After spending a year on Marion Island in 1994/95 monitoring its seabirds, Anton completed his PhD at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2007 on the impact of oil pollution on the breeding ecology of the now Endangered African Penguin Spheniscus demersus.  He then spent five years in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)* working for the United Kingdom’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee as the ACAP Coordinator for the South Atlantic including the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (Islas Georgias del Sur y Islas Sandwich del Sur)*, the Tristan da Cunha -Gough Islands and the UK’s interests in Antarctica.  In recent years Anton has worked as a freelance environmental consultant, as well as as acting as a lecturer and guide on expedition ships to the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions during austral summers, along with running a small farm in South Africa’s Eastern Cape with his wife Leigh Wolfaardt – also well known to ACAP for her albatross artwork.

The attempt to eradicate Marion Island’s mice in two years’ time follows on from this year’s attempt to eradicate the House Mice of Gough Island which are also attacking the island’s birdlife by the UK’s Gough Island Restoration Project (GIRP) – as regularly reported by ACAP Latest News.  South Africa, which operates a weather station on Gough, is working closely with GIRP, lending logistic support with transport to and accommodation on the island.  It is envisaged that the ensuing transfer of skills and the donsation of equipment will be a major boost to the Marion Island exercise.

Another UCT graduate, Peter Ryan, Director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the same university, is a member of the Mouse Free Marion Management Committee.  He also Chairs the recently established MFM Scientific and Technical Advisory Group (STAG) which will offer scientific and technical guidance to the management committee as and when required.  The ACAP Information Officer has accepted a request to serve on the STAG.  He looks forward to helping his old colleagues Anton and Peter in helping work towards a mouse-free Marion Island in 2023.

Taking its cue from the successful eradication of mice on New Zealand’s (and far smaller at 21 km²) Antipodes Island by the Million Dollar Mouse project, BirdLife South Africa has been running a ‘Sponsor a Hectare’ campaign to raise funds for the many tonnes of poisoned cereal bait that will be required.  So far 1741 hectares (with a donation of South African Rands 1000 (or USD 90) per hectare) have been sponsored by 657 supporters.  With only 5.73% of the island’s 290 km² funded so far there is a long way to go so your own donation will still be welcomed!

Reference:

Parkes, J. 2014.  Eradication of House Mice Mus musculus from Marion Island: a Review of Feasibility, Constraints and Risks.  BirdLife South Africa Occasional Report Series No. 1.  Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa.  27 pp.

With thanks to Peter Ryan and Anton Wolfaardt.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 02 February 2021, reposted 10 February 2021

*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.

70-something Laysan Albatross Wisdom hatches her latest egg on Midway

Wisdom mate 2021

Wisdom‘s newest chick shortly after hatching with Akeakamai, Wisdom’s current partner

By now, even irregular readers of ACAP Latest News should have heard of Wisdom, the 70-something Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis on Midway Atoll.  She is the world’s oldest known wild bird and surely one of the most famous: thought to be at least 70 years of age (she was banded as an adult in 1956 when considered to be not younger than five years old).  The news in now in that her latest egg, laid back in November last year, has hatched as reported last week by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service: Pacific Islands:

“Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, banded wild bird, hatched a new chick this week at Midway Atoll.  Biologists first observed the egg pipping on Friday, January 29.  After several days, the chick hatched on Monday, February 1. … Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai, have been hatching and raising chicks together since at least 2012, when biologists first banded Akeakamai.”

Wisdom mate pipping egg Feb 2021

Akeakamai (Red G000) stands over Wisdom’s pipping egg on 30 January. “Pipping is when a young bird begins to crack the shell of the egg when hatching.   Sometimes the process can take multiple days”

Wisdom Feb 2021.1

Wisdom (Red Z333) returns to tend her chick in the first week of February

Photographs by Jon Brack, Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Read more about Wisdom and Akeakamai hatching their latest egg here.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 09 February 2021