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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Polychlorinated biphenyl levels in Black-footed Albatrosses from Midway Atoll

Jun Wang (Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA) and colleagues have written in the on-line, open-access journal PLoS ONE on PCBs in Black-footed Albatrosses Phoebastria nigripes.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are ubiquitous in the environment.  Midway Atoll, located in the North Pacific Ocean, was occupied by the military during and after World War II.  However, Midway Atoll has become a national wildlife refuge and home to many different seabirds today, including the black-footed albatross (Diomedea nigripes) (BFAL).  The profiles and toxic equivalents (TEQ) of PCB congeners in the plasma and preen oil of BFAL chicks and adults were determined in this study.  The concentrations of the total PCBs in the plasma samples of chicks and adults collected in Midway Atoll ranged from 2.3 to 223.8 (mean 80.1) and 22.8 to 504.5 (mean 158.6) ng g-1 (wet weight, ww), respectively.  The TEQs ranged from 0.2 to 0.6 (mean 0.4) and 0.4 to 1.6 (mean 0.9) pg g-1 ww, respectively, in the plasma samples of chicks and adults from Midway Atoll.  The major congeners in the plasma samples of chicks and adults included PCBs 31, 87, 97, 99, 118, 138, 153, and 180, accounting for 70% of the total PCBs.  The concentrations of the total PCBs in the adult preen oil samples ranged from 1693 to 39404 (mean 10122) ng g-1 (ww), of which 97% were PCBs 105, 118, 128, 138, 153, 161, 172, and 183.

Black-footed Albatross, photograph by Cynthia Vanderlip

Reference:

Wang, J., Caccamise, S.A.L., Woodward, L.A. & Li, Q.X. 2015.  Polychlorinated Biphenyls in the plasma and preen oil of Black-Footed Albatross (Diomedea nigripeschicks and adults on Midway Atoll, North Pacific Ocean.  PLoS ONE 10(4): e0123041 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123041.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 01 June 2015

Employment opportunities: help conserve Critically Endangered Tristan Albatrosses on World Heritage Gough Island for a year

A Senior Research Assistant and two Research Assistants are required for island restoration work on Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean, a World Heritage Site.  Field work will include demographic monitoring of the Critically Endangered and near-endemic Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena, as well as of four other species of ACAP-listed albatrosses and petrels.  Details of the three posts follow.

Female Tristan Albatross incubating on Gough Island, photograph by John Cooper

A long-running research and conservation management project requires three people to work on Gough Island for 13 months, with an additional month for training in Cape Town, South Africa prior to departure.  These contract positions are designed primarily to conduct annual monitoring of breeding seabirds (two positions), and control an invasive plant, the Procumbent Pearlwort Sagina procumbens (one position; one of the other Research Assistants will also be trained in Sagina work, including rope access).

The seabird monitoring positions are responsible for annual monitoring of breeding success, survival, population counts, and other field work for 14 breeding species throughout the entire year.  The Sagina position is responsible for control and eradication work on Sagina from the steep cliffs adjacent to the weather station on Gough Island.  If required, training in rope-access techniques (IRATA Level 1 or equivalent) will be provided prior to departure to Gough Island for two team members.

The candidates will be joining and living with the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) overwintering team of six people in a weather station, and will also be required to work within the requirements of SANAP’s overwintering team.  It will be an asset if the post holders have prior experience of working with one or more other team members.

Requirements – Monitoring (2 positions)

The successful applicants should have experience in:

  • Bird banding, safe handling of birds
  • Conducting surveys and censuses of breeding seabirds
  • Managing large amounts of data
  • Undertaking fieldwork in a mountainous environment and inclement weather conditions
  • Additional skills that would benefit a candidate include
  • Banding/ringing permit
  • Blood sampling, attaching biologging devices

Post-graduate research degree.

Requirements – Sagina (1 position)

The successful applicant should have experience in:

  • Abseil rope-access techniques, and/or rock climbing experience
  • Undertaking fieldwork in a mountainous environment and inclement weather conditions
  • Working on remote islands (or equivalent remote locations).

Additional skills that would benefit a candidate include alien plant eradication techniques.

Requirements – all positions

Applicants must demonstrate:

  • An ability to live and work in a very small team on one of the world’s most remote islands for a prolonged period
  • High levels of physical fitness, adaptability and a strong work ethic
  • Aptitude and/or proven experience in successfully undertaking unsupervised fieldwork, with safety as a first priority.

The successful applicants will have skills/qualifications:

  • A degree or equivalent qualification or experience in a science/conservation discipline, ideally with some work experience in conservation/wildlife-related fieldwork and research
  • Details of the jobs:
  • Conduct fieldwork according to a work-plan devised by the project managers
  • Assist biological research, Sagina control, fieldwork and monitoring as required
  • Make day-to-day decisions about work priorities and fieldwork protocols
  • Maintain accurate records of the work and computer databases of the work
  • Regularly report to and update the project managers on progress (Senior Research Assistant only)
  • Be responsible for data quality and reporting, and on-site training as needed (Senior Research Assistant only).

Salaries: UK£ 10 600 (Research Assistant), UK£ 14 500 (Senior Research Assistant) for 15 months, plus transport, food, and accommodation.

Period: 25 July 2015 – 25 October 2016.

How to apply:

Send a cover letter outlining your experience and qualifications, CV and contact information (including telephone numbers) for three references as a single PDF document to Dr. Alex Bond (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) by midnight GMT on 17 June 2015.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 31 May 2015

Impressions of an expert. Field work to assess the feasibility of eradicating Marion Island’s mice completed

Last month ACAP Latest News reported that New Zealand invasive species expert John Parkes was to undertake a feasibility study for the eradication of House Mice Mus musculus on South Africa’s Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean during the annual relief of the island’s meteorological and research station (click here).  John recently returned from the island on the annual relief after completimg his study and has replied to five questions put to him by ALN on his impressions of Marion and of the task ahead.

John Parkes heads south for the feasibility study

How was the field work?

It was of course great to see the island - and the mice.  I was interested to see if there were mice up in the high-altitude 'polar desert' and confirmed their presence there, which means the whole island will need to be baited.  It was very useful to talk to members of the scientific and meteorological staff present on the island.  The photos of mouse-attacked Grey-headed Albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma by Ben Dilley and Peter Ryan of the FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town reinforce the case already made by Andrea Angel and John Cooper in their 2011 report that the mice need to be eradicated.

Is eradication feasible?

Yes, the mice can be eradicated.  Mice have been eradicated from 60 islands around the World including several sub-Antarctic islands such as Macquarie, Enderby and Coal Islands.

Confidence that it is possible on Marion will be improved if the recent attempt on parts of South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)* prove successful and if the intended eradications on Antipodes, Gough and Steeple Jason, Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)* succeed.  In fact of the 20 mouse eradication attempts made on islands since 2007 around the World only one has failed - probably due to reinvasion.  This is a great improvement on attempts made before 2007 - when about a third had failed.

Are their research needs prior to an eradication attempt?

Several questions need to be answered for Marion.  A major question is what time of year should an eradication attempt be made.  Tradition has it that winter is the best time to undertake rodent eradications on temperate islands because the rodents are then at their hungriest and are not breeding.  But winter on Marion has short days, many days on which helicopters cannot fly, and although the mice are not breeding and their numbers are reducing from their autumn peak densities, the per capita food supply may actually be better for the survivors than when they have to compete with lots of their fellows.

So a question to be resolved is whether a late summer - early autumn baiting might be better, as was the case for Enderby Island and for South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)*.  Some traditional bait-acceptance trials might be conducted in April during an annual relief.  These use non-toxic bait marked with a dye that is spread in an area where mice have been trapped and tagged.  They are then retrapped after baiting to see if 100% have eaten baits.

How did you find the quarantine procedures?

The South Africans take biosecurity seriously and try to stop new plants and animals arriving on their islands.  However, if mice are finally eradicated from Marion the effort required to make sure they (or rats) do not get back needs some further thought.  Current early detection-rapid response procedures at sites where supplies are unloaded from containers and nets on the island seem adequate for invertebrates, but what would the staff do if a mouse hopped out of an opened container ashore post-eradication?  The risks of such events occurring are low, but the responses in place to stop a hitch-hiking mouse from scuttling off into the wild require some extra effort.

What were your overall impressions?

A fascinating place - few species of native plants but great to see the seals and birds.  The Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans has to be my favourite bird!  South Africa has very few islands but the Prince Edward group must be the gem.

Wandering Albatross and chick on Marion Island, with mouse-free Prince Edward in the background 17 km away

Selected Literature:

Angel, A. & Cooper, J. 2011.  Review of the Impacts of the House Mouse Mus musculus on sub-Antarctic Marion Island, Prince Edward Islands.  Report to the Prince Edward Islands Management Committee, South African National Antarctic Programme.  Rondebosch: CORE Initiatives.  57 pp.

Angel, A., Wanless, R.M. & Cooper, J. 2008.  Review of impacts of the introduced House Mouse on islands in the Southern Ocean: are mice equivalent to rats?  Biological Invasions 11: 1743-1754.

Jones, M.G.W. & Ryan, P.G. 2010.  Evidence of mouse attacks on albatross chicks on sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  Antarctic Science 22: 39-42.

Parkes, J. 2008.  A feasibility study for the eradication of House Mice from Gough Island.  RSPB Research Report No. 34.  Sandy: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  51 pp.

Wanless, R.M., Cooper, J., Slabber, M.J. & Ryan, P.G. 2010.  Risk assessment of birds foraging terrestrially at Marion and Gough Islands to primary and secondary poisoning.  Wildlife Research 37: 524-530.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 28 May 2015

*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.

White-chinned Petrels fledglings are getting tracked at sea in the South Atlantic

The ACAP-listed White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis is the bird most commonly recorded as fisheries bycatch by longline and trawl fisheries in the Southern Ocean.  Although currently listed as globally Vulnerable, it has been suggested that limited population trend data provide some grounds for uplisting the species to Endangered, with the decision dependent largely on better information from South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)*, which is believed to hold more than half of the World’s populationAt Bird Island, there was a decrease of 28% (equivalent to 2% per year) in nesting burrow occupancy from the late 1970s to the late 1990s.

Based on existing tracking data, the greatest overlap between adult birds and fisheries, and therefore the greatest risk of bycatch, occurs on the Patagonian Shelf during the pre-laying period, and on the Patagonian Shelf and off southern Chile during the non-breeding period.  However, non-breeders (10 birds) have been tracked in only one year, and stable isotope analysis of feathers from a larger sample suggests that a small proportion also spend the winter in the Benguela Upwelling region off the west coast of southern Africa.  Nothing is as yet known about the movements of newly-fledged birds.

To remedy this gap in knowledge, 13 chicks were fitted with small satellite transmitters (PTTs, made by Telonics) last month on Bird Island and are being tracked in near real-time using the Argos system.  The tagging will enable monitoring of the routes they take as they search for food sources.  Their movements are being added to a map which is updated daily (click here).

The greatest risk to these birds lies on the Patagonian Shelf where most of them appear to be heading.  The distances covered in the first few weeks after fledging are already in excess of 9000 kilometres.  The tracking is part of a wider study that involves attaching geolocators to birds to track non-breeding movements and at-sea activity patterns of adults in the South Atlantic.

White-chinned Petrels on Bird Island, photographs by Andy Wood 

With thanks to Andy Wood, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK for information and photographs.

Selected literature:

Phillips, R.A., Silk, J.R.D., Croxall, J.P. & Afanasyev, V. 2006.  Year-round distribution of white-chinned petrels from South Georgia: relationships with oceanography and fisheries.  Biological Conservation 129: 336-347.

Mackley, E.K., Phillips, R.A., Silk, J.R.D., Wakefield, E.D., Afanasyev, V. & Furness, R.W. 2011.  At-sea activity patterns of breeding and nonbreeding white-chinned petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis from South Georgia.  Marine Biology 158: 429-438.

Martin, A. R., Poncet, S., Barbraud, C., Foster, E., Fretwell, P. & Rothery, P. 2009.  The white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) on South Georgia: population size, distribution and global significance.  Polar Biology 32: 655-661.

Phillips, R.A., Bearhop, S., McGill, R.A.R. & Dawson, D.A. 2009.  Stable isotopes reveal individual variation in migration strategies and habitat preferences in a suite of seabirds during the nonbreeding period.  Oecologia 160: 795-806.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 29 May 2015

*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.

A research report and a five-minute film detail work conducted towards eradicating House Mice on New Zealand’s Antipodes Island

Graeme Elliott (Science and Capability Group, Department of Conservation, Nelson, New Zealand) and colleagues have published a report in the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s DOC Research and Development Series on research conducted preparatory to the planned attempt to eradicate House Mice Mus musculus on Antipodes Island next year.

The report’s abstract follows

“The eradication of house mice (Mus musculus) from subantarctic Antipodes Island is likely to present many challenges, but of particular concern is the potential impact on resident non-target terrestrial and marine bird species.  Therefore, the likely impacts of the proposed eradication operation were examined in July 2013.  Non-toxic baits containing the biotracer pyranine were distributed over 6 ha of the island at a density of 16 kg/ha.  The density of mice and levels of bait uptake were then measured on three trapping grids, two within and one external to the bait distribution area.  All mice that were captured in the two trapping grids in the baited area at Reef Point returned positive results for pyranine.  In contrast, 1 snipe (Coenocorypha aucklandica meinertzhagenae), 9 pipits (Anthus novaeseelandiae steindachneri), 17 Reischek’s parakeets (Cyanoramphus hochstetteri) and 16 Antipodes Island parakeets (Cyanoramphus unicolor) that were captured within the Reef Point study area showed no signs of having eaten the baits.  Pyranine was, however, found in bird faeces collected within the bait distribution area, which predominantly originated from blackbirds (Turdus merula) and song thrushes (Turdus philomelos), along with small numbers of pipits. Pipits were also observed eating small quantities of bait and producing faeces containing the biotracer.  Scavenging species such as brown skua (Catharacta antarctica lonnbergi), kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus) and northern giant petrels (Macronectes halli) appeared to show no interest in the baits or, in the case of northern giant petrels, dead mice.  Bait persistence trials were also conducted, and population monitoring of mice, parakeet species, pipits, snipe and invertebrates are reported on, along with captive husbandry techniques and observations of the diet of parakeets.  Finally, a list of recommendations for minimising non-target impacts and carrying out monitoring prior to and following mouse eradication is provided.”

An Antipodean Albatross pair on the Antipodes, photograph by Erica Sommer

Winter in the Subantarctic is a short film recorded on the 2013 expedition which describes the research then undertaken in preparation for the eradication of mice and restoration of the island.

Reference:

Elliott, G.P., Greene, T.C., Nathan, H.W. & Russell, J.C. 2015.  Winter bait uptake trials and related field work on Antipodes Island in preparation for mouse (Mus musculus) eradication.  DOC Research and Development Series No. 345.  34 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 28 May 2015

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