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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Saving albatrosses: BirdLife South Africa’s Ross Wanless receives Environmentalist of the Year award

Dr Ross Wanless of BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme received South Africa’s Nick Steele Memorial Award as Environmentalist of the Year at the 26th Annual SAB (South African Breweries) Environmental Media and Environmentalist of the Year Awards held in Johannesburg earlier this month.

Ross Wanless...

 

...and his award

Nick Steele was a South African game warden and author who worked to protect rhinoceroses in the 1950s and 1960s in KwaZulu-Natal.  Winners of the award are chosen from the top 10 finalists by a group of judges.  The award comes with a cash prize of South African Rands 25 000.

BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme “has used science, advocacy, persistence and win-win solutions” to reduce mortality of albatrosses in South Africa’s trawl fishery for hake Merluccius spp. by over 95% (click here).

 “The SAB award recognises not just a lot of hard work over many years, but an individual who has been instrumental in delivering significant, lasting conservation outcomes.  Very few conservation programmes can actually demonstrate tangible benefits for species they seek to conserve”.

"It’s a real honour to receive this sort of recognition, but I do need to acknowledge that I have an amazing team at BirdLife South Africa, and this award is theirs as much as mine”, said Dr Wanless.

Ross was unable to receive the award in person, as he was then in South Korea running a workshop with the country’s tuna longline fleet to assist it in adopting best-practice measures to avoid seabird mortality

BirdLife South Africa’s seabird programme has already won two other prizes, one international awarded to staffer Bronwyn Maree, the other domestic, for its work in reducing albatross and petrel mortality in fisheries that has now been published in the journal Animal Conservation (click here).

Selected Literature:

Maree, B.A., Wanless, R.M., Fairweather, T.P., Sullivan, B.J. & Yates, O. 2014.  Significant reductions in mortality of threatened seabirds in a South African trawl fishery.  Animal Conservation doi:10.1111/acv.12126.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 31 October 2014

At least 15 Reindeer remain on a South Atlantic seabird island following a two-year eradication programme

Efforts to eradicate introduced Reindeer Rangifer tarandus from South Georgia (Isla Georgias del Sur)* in the South Atlantic took place over the last two austral summers with over 6600 animals killed from the two herds that then existed (click here).

According to the report of this year’s exercise at least eight females and calves survived in the Barff Peninsula region, with the intention to remove them by shooting early next year, leading to a Reindeer-free island after three years of effort.  A helicopter was deployed from a visiting vessel last month to look for these few remaining Reindeer.  Fifteen animals were photographed together among the snow in Penguin Bay (click here).

The last 15 Reindeer?

The removal of nearly all the Reindeer from South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)* is already leading to vegetation recovery from grazing and trampling.  This is expected to improve the habitat for burrowing petrels, including the ACAP-listed and Vulnerable White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis.  “Projects have been established to monitor vegetation and bird communities to track the recovery of the island’s ecosystems after the eradication. Although it will take a number of years for the full benefits of the eradication to be realised, there are already signs of vegetation recovery.”

A Reindeer on South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)* before th eradication effort, photograph by Kirk Zufelt

The history of the island’s Reindeer, first introduced from Norway in 2011 "as a reminder of home and for recreational hunting", is depicted in a set of four postage stamps issued earlier this month.  Click here to view the stamps and accompanying text.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 30 October 2014

*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.

ACAP supports the first aerial census of Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses on the UK’s Gough Island

The first aerial photographic survey of Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses Thalassarche chlororhynchos on the United Kingdom’s Gough Island in the South Atlantic was undertaken on 27 September this year during incubation time as part of South Africa’s annual relief of its weather station on the island.  The survey team consisted of Alex Bond of the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Bird’s Centre for Conservation Science (with financial support from ACAP’s grant awards for 2014), and Peter Ryan, Delia Davies and Ben Dilley of the FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The need for an island-wise survey was identified by ACAP’s Advisory Committee at its 2013 meeting (AC7) in La Rochelle, France, given that previous estimates have been based on ground work only, which does not allow access to all the rugged island’s breeding sites.

A Bell 212 helicopter operated by Starlite Aviation was used for the survey, flying from South Africa’s Antarctic supply and research vessel, the S.A. Agulhas II.  The single flight lasted about 25 minutes.  Not all areas of the island were covered due to low cloud in the west.  Three observers used hand-held cameras through an open door to obtain multiple sets of photos.  In addition, two GoPro cameras were fitted below the helicopter with the aim of helping orientation and the merging of photos.

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross on Gough Island, photograph by Andrea Angel and Ross Wanless

The view from the helicopter during the survey, photograph by Delia Davies

According to Alex Bond work has now started to merge the overlapping aerial photos using software to form photomontages, capitalising on recent advances in imaging quality and processing.  Apparently occupied nests (AONs) can then be relatively accurately counted from these montages on-screen.  However, because of Gough’s thick vegetation in places, some occupied nests will not show up on aerial photographs so extensive ground truthing has been undertaken on the island to allow for correction factors to be applied.

Poor flying weather halted a similar survey planned for the main island of Tristan da Cunha from going ahead.  This has now been rescheduled for September 2015.  Tristan is thought to be the largest breeding site for the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, but the most recent population estimate (16 000-30 000 breeding pairs) dates as far back as the early 1970s.

Click here to read more of the RSPB’s conservation work in the Tristan da Cunha group of islands.

Research and monitoring of albatrosses in the Tristan-Gough Islands are supported financially and logistically by ACAP, UK's Darwin Initiative, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and National Research Foundation and Ovenstone Agencies and takes place with the approval of the Tristan Conservation Department.

With thanks to Alex Bond and Peter Ryan for information.

Selected Literature:

Cuthbert, R.J., Cooper, J. & Ryan, P.G. 2014.  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.

Cuthbert, R., Ryan, P.G., Cooper, J. & Hilton, G. 2003.  Demography and population trends of the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross.  The Condor 105: 439-452.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 29 October 2014

Artificial lighting kills 39% of downed Short-tailed Shearwater fledglings in Australia

Airam Rodríguez (Phillip Island Nature Parks, Cowes, Victoria, Australia) and colleagues have published in the open-access online journal PloS ONE on light pollution affecting Short-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Light pollution is increasing around the world and altering natural nightscapes with potential ecological and evolutionary consequences. A severe ecological perturbation caused by artificial lights is mass mortalities of organisms, including seabird fledglings that are attracted to lights at night on their first flights to the sea. Here, we report on the number of fledging short-tailed shearwaters Ardenna tenuirostris found grounded in evening and morning rescue patrols conducted at Phillip Island, Australia, during a 15-year period (1999–2013). We assessed factors affecting numbers of grounded birds and mortality including date, moon phase, wind direction and speed, number of visitors and holiday periods. We also tested experimentally if birds were attracted to lights by turning the lights off on a section of the road. Of 8871 fledglings found, 39% were dead or dying. This mortality rate was 4–8 times higher than reported elsewhere for other shearwater species, probably because searching for fledglings was part of our systematic rescue effort rather than the opportunistic rescue used elsewhere. Thus, it suggests that light-induced mortality of seabirds is usually underestimated. We rescued more birds (dead and alive) in peak fledging, moonless and windy nights. Mortality increased through the fledging period, in the mornings and with increased traffic on holiday periods. Turning the road lights off decreased the number of grounded birds (dead and alive). While moon, wind and time are uncontrolled natural constraints, we demonstrated that reduction of light pollution and better traffic management can mitigate artificial light-induced mortality.”

Short-tailed Shearwater, photograph by Mark Carey

Reference:

Rodríguez, A., Burgan, G., Dann, P., Jessop, R., Negro, J.J. & Chiaradia, A. 2014.  Fatal attraction of Short-Tailed Shearwaters to artificial lights.  PLoS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110114.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 28 October 2014

Keeping mongooses off the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i is a priority for threatened Hawaiian Petrels and Newell’s Shearwaters

David Duffy and Paula Capece (Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, Department of Botany, University of Hawai’i Manoa, Honolulu, Hawai’i, USA) write in the open-access journal Marine Ornithology on the dangers of mongooses preying upon Vulnerable Hawaiian Petrels Pterodroma sandwichensis and Endangered Newell’s Shearwaters Puffinus newelli on the North Pacific island of Kaua’i.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Small Indian Mongooses Herpestes javanicus have until recently been absent from the island of Kaua’i, Hawai’i.  In anticipation of required management, we examine evidence that mongooses may be a significantly more dangerous predator than cats Felis catus for burrowing seabirds, particularly the endangered Hawaiian Petrel Pterodroma sandwichensis and threatened Newell’s Shearwater Puffinus newelli.  Mongooses are small enough to enter burrows, allowing them to take eggs, nestlings and adults.  In contrast, cats appear too broad to enter any but the widest burrows, so they tend to attack adults and young when these come to the burrow mouth.  Given that these seabird species no longer persist in any numbers at low elevations on islands where mongooses are present, and that Kaua’i is one of the lowest of the main Hawaiian islands, if resources are limited, local control or eradication of mongooses would be a higher priority for management than control of cats or rats Rattus spp., although control of just one predator might result in increases in the others.  The most important management action is to keep mongooses off islands where they are not already established.”

Hawaiian Petrel, photograph by André Raine

Reference:

Duffy, D. C. & Capece, P.I. 2014.  Depredation of endangered burrowing seabirds in Hawai’i: management priorities.  Marine Ornithology 42: 149-152.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 27 October 2014