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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Below 10% for the first time: Tristan Albatrosses have their least successful breeding year on Gough Island since recording commenced in 2000

It is now well known that the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena is under serious threat from attacks on its chicks by “killer” House Mice Mus musculus on the United Kingdom’s Gough Island, its major breeding site (at most one to two pairs breed annually on Inaccessible Island in the Tristan Group).

A Tristan Albatross chick shows signs of wounds inflicted by mice in 2013, photograph by Peter Ryan

During annual relief voyages to Gough Island each spring, a high priority is to count the Tristan Albatross chicks across the entire island to assess the year’s breeding success.  The results from this year’s expedition, which returned to South Africa last week, are dire with only 9.8% of the eggs laid in January resulting in live chicks surviving to September.

According to Peter Ryan, Director of the University of Cape Town’s FitzPatrick Institute and Expedition Leader “the albatross chick count of 163 in 2014 was the lowest total ever, giving an island-wide breeding success of below 10% for the first time.  Annual chick production has fallen by more than 80% since the first island-wide count 15 years ago, confirming the serious impact mice are having on this species.  As usual, the north of the island was particularly hard hit, but we weren’t prepared for the magnitude of the impact there.  In the lower-lying areas of West Point and GP Valley only two chicks survived out of more than 400 breeding attempts.”

The 2014 counting party gets dropped by helicopter in GP Valley - with not a single Tristan Albatross chick in view

Photograph by Peter Ryan

Great albatrosses of the genus Diomedea should successfully raise chicks from 60-70% of breeding attempts, based on studies on islands where chicks are not attacked by rodents, six to seven times higher than the situation on Gough this year.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has been studying the feasibility of eradicating Gough’s mice by using helicopters to drop poison bait over the entire island (click here).

At its recent meeting in Uruguay the ACAP Advisory Committee agreed that the removal of introduced House Mice from Gough Island was a particularly high priority to help conserve the Tristan Albatross, as well as other ACAP-listed seabirds that breed on the island (click here).

Research on threatened birds on Gough Island is undertaken jointly by the FitzPatrick Institute and the RSPB with support from the Tristan Conservation Department and the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.

With thanks to Peter Ryan for information ansd photographs

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 October 2014

Most northerly Southern Giant Petrels on Gough Island gets counted for the third year in a row, suggesting a stable population

A total of 251 incubating pairs of ACAP-listed Southern Giant Petrels Macronectes giganteus was counted at four different localities on the United Kingdom’s Gough Island in the South Atlantic last month by Peter Ryan and colleagues of the University of Cape Town's FitzPatrick Institute.  Gough is the most northerly breeding locality for the species.

One of two pairs of Southern Giant Petrels incubating on Long Beach on Gough's east coast in September 2014, photograph by Peter Ryan

The two previous complete-island counts were of 253 incubating pairs in 2012 and 223 in 2013.

Compared to the previous counts, the numbers of breeding birds in Giant Petrel (“GP”) Valley were up, while the numbers in the demographic study colony below Low Hump were down.  However, there is no evidence that colour-banded birds from the Low Hump colony move to other breeding sites on the island, so the year-to-year fluctuations may reflect local variations in the numbers of birds missing a breeding year by taking so-called “sabbaticals”.

Unlike for a number of other seabird species on Gough, there are no observations of giant petrel chicks being attacked by introduced House Mice Mus musculus, which might help explain their currently stable population on the island.

Avian research on Gough Island is conducted with the approval of the Tristan Conservation Department and is supported logistically by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.

With thanks to Peter Ryan for information and the photograph.

Selected Literature:

Cuthbert, R.L., Ryan, P.G. & Cooper, J. 2013.  Population trends and breeding success of albatrosses and giant petrels at Gough Island in the face of at-sea and on-land threats.  Antarctic Science 26: 163-171.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 13 October 2014

Surviving in New Zealand: should the Flesh-footed Shearwater have a threatened status?

Christophe Barbraud (Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Villiers-en-Bois, France) and colleagues have published in the open-access journal Marine Ornithology on survivorship in Flesh-footed Shearwaters Puffinus carneipes in New Zealand.  The species, identified as a potential candidate for ACAP listing (click here), is currently categorized globally as of Least Concern.  However, the authors argue that its conservation status should be reassessed “urgently”.

The paper’s abstract follows:

The Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes is a widespread sub-tropical species, breeding on Southern Hemisphere islands managed by New Zealand, Australia and France.  Recent concern over the population’s stability and frequently noted bycatch in longline fisheries has prompted a review of its conservation status.   Studies of nesting shearwaters at two sites presented here provide detail of survivorship rates for two populations, studied over 13 and 23 years, respectively, in northern New Zealand sites.  Adult survival (0.93–0.94) is moderate to high compared with survival of congeners.  Population growth rates estimated from marked individuals indicate stability for one site and decline at the other site.  Average age of first return of banded chicks was 6.2 years of age in one study and 6.4 years in the other. Current threats affecting survivorship for the New Zealand populations of this species are reviewed.”

Flesh-footed Shearwater, photograph by Tim Reid

Click here to access a recently published paper on the conservation status of the Flesh-footed Shearwater in Australia.


Barbraud, C., Booth, A., Taylor, G.A. & Waugh, S.M. 2014.  Survivorship in Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes at two sites in northern New Zealand.  Marine Ornithology 42: 91-97.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 October 2014

Female-female Laysan Albatross pairs fledge chicks from fostered eggs

Lindsay Young (Pacific Rim Conservation, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA) and colleagues have published online in the open-access journal Marine Ornithology on the results of translocating and fostering eggs of Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis are large seabirds that breed primarily in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  In the 1960s, they began colonizing new sites across the Pacific, including the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kaua’i.  Albatross were first recorded at PMRF in 1967, were breeding by 1977 and by 2012 had a colony of 84 nesting pairs.  In 1988, a bird-aircraft strike hazard reduction program was begun in which adults were hazed and eggs were destroyed.  In 2005, a foster parent program was initiated in which inviable eggs from Laysan Albatross pairs on Kaua’i’s North Shore were replaced with viable eggs from PMRF.  From 2009 to 2012, we placed 105 eggs from PMRF in foster nests.  Hatching success of foster eggs (39%) was low because most foster eggs (71%) were placed with female-female pairs, which are known to have low hatching success compared with male-female pairs (32% vs. 63%).  Fledging success of foster nests (93%) was high, but overall reproductive success of foster nests (36%) was lower than average for this species because of the low hatching rate.  This project contributed to the conservation of Laysan Albatrosses by producing 37 additional young for the Kaua’i population and provided valuable insights into incubation, breeding performance and fostering methods.  Additional foster pairs should be sought, and sites on other islands should be identified where excess eggs from PMRF could be used to create new colonies by hand-rearing chicks.”

A Laysan Albatross receives its fostered egg, photograph by Lindsay Young


Young, L.C., Vanderwerf, E.A., Granholm, C., Osterlund, H., Steutermann, K. & Savre, T. 2014.  Breeding performance of Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis in a foster parent program.  Marine Ornithology 42: 99-103.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 October 2014

The USA gets its second predator-proof fence to protect albatrosses and shearwaters on the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i

The Kaua‘i National Wildlife Refuge Complex on the USA’s Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i is comprised of the Hanalei, Hulē‘ia and Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuges.  This month as part of the USA’s National Wildlife Refuge Week the refuge complex is celebrating the completion of Kaua‘i’s first predator-proof fence on the slopes of Nīhoku (Crater Hill) within the complex following a ground-breaking ceremony in June.

Nihoku Ecosystem Restoration Project site

The fence with a mesh skirt and a rolled hood is the second of its type to be erected in Hawaii.  The first Hawaiian predator-proof fence successfully protects ACAP-listed Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus at Kaena Point on the island of Oahu (click here).  The 725-m fence on Kaua‘i has been designed to keep out introduced mammalian predators such as cats, dogs, mongoose, rats and mice from a 3.1-ha enclosure to protect Laysan Albatrosses which currently breed within it as well as other breeding birds and native plants.  The absence of predators (once removed) will make the site suitable for translocations of the Hawaiian-endemic and Endangered Newell’s Shearwater P. newelli.

The Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1985; in 1988 it was expanded to include Nihoku and Mōkōlea Point.

Partners for the Nihoku Ecosystem Restoration Project include the American Bird Conservancy, the Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project (a Hawai‘i Division of Forestry and Wildlife/Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit project), Pacific Rim Conservation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Read more about the Nihoku Ecosystem Restoration Project and the positive outcome of its environmental assessment.  See also

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 10 October 2014