ACAP Latest News

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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Cats eat rats, but who eats Cory’s Shearwaters?

Sandra Hervías (Animal Health Department, University of Murcia, Spain) and colleagues write in the journal Zoology on Black Rats Rattus rattus preying upon Cory’s Shearwaters Calonectris borealis in the presence of feral cats Felis catus.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“This study assessed the impact of introduced black rats on Cory's shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis) in a multi-invaded insular ecosystem where rats are mesopredators.  We hypothesized that black rats should have little impact on Cory's shearwaters in the presence of cats as superpredators.  Stomach contents and stable isotope analysis (SIA) in tissues of black rats were analyzed to assess the trophic ecology and the importance of Cory's shearwater in their diet.  We also studied the isotopic signature of mouse tissues to confirm previous data showing no predation of this species on Cory's shearwaters.  For both rodent species, temporal variation in diet composition in response to the availability of seabird prey was evaluated, and short- and long-term consistency in diet was tested using different tissues from the same individual.  For black rats a Bayesian isotope mixing model (SIAR) was applied to determine the relative contribution of each prey to the individual diet.  SIA of mouse tissues varied between the Cory's shearwater breeding and non-breeding periods.  However, no significant differences were found in diet and SIA for black rats.  In contrast, individuals of both species showed a strong consistency in diet which apparently benefited their body condition index.  Although black rats supplement their diet with Cory's shearwater eggs and chicks (8.3% in stomach contents and 10.6% in the SIAR model), their current impact on the Cory's shearwater population appears to be small, probably due to several factors including the small size of the rat population and a high level of rat predation by cats.”

Cory's Shearwaters, photograph by Paulo Catry


Hervías, S, Ceia, F.R., Pipa, T., Nogales, M., Ruiz de Ybáñez, R. & Ramos, J.A. 2014.  How important are seabirds in the diet of black rats on islands with a superpredator?  Zoology

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 07 April 2014

ACAP Breeding Site No. 68. Laysan Island and its albatrosses form part of USA’s Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

One of the USA’s Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NHWI) in the North Pacific, Laysan Island is a raised coral atoll with a central 70-ha hypersaline lake.  Its area is about 4 km² (1.6 by 2.4 km); it is one of the largest islands in the NHWI chain.  The atoll is low-lying with a maximum height of 15 m and is partially covered with a low vegetation of grasses and vines; parts are exposed sand with little growth.  The island is inhabited year round by a field camp operated by researchers and managers.

 Two aerial views of Laysan Island with its central lake

The single coconut grove with Laysan Albatrosses, photograph by Greg McClelland

Low grassy vegetation, photograph by Greg McClelland

The northern "sand desert", photograph by Greg McClelland

Laysan falls within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, a large Marine Protected Area declared in 2006.  In 2010 Papahanaumokuakea became one of then only 28 mixed (cultural and natural) UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the World.

Two ACAP-listed species, the Laysan Phoebastria immutabilis and Black-footed P. nigripes Albatrosses breed on the atoll.  The ACAP Data Portal gives 2012 populations of 134 835 breeding pairs of Laysan and 24 565 pairs of Black-footed Albatrosses.

Laysan Albatrosses breeding and displaying on Laysan Island

Photographs by Mark Rauzon

 Black-footed Albatross chicks cool off with an inquisitive Laysan Finch

Photograph by Mark Rauzon

Other procellariiform species that occur are the Bonin Petrel Pterodroma hypoleuca, Buler’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, Christmas Puffinus nativitatus and Wedge-tailed P. pacificus Shearwaters and Tristram’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma tristrami, along with and a number of other seabird species.  Occasional singleton Short-tailed Albatrosses P. albatrus have been recorded ashore on Laysan (click here); with an adult photographed in 2011 (click here).  Breeding attempts have not (as yet) been reported, unlike on Kure and Midway Atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Laysan was severely altered by the effects of feral European Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus.  Brought as a food source for humans in 1903, the rabbits ate nearly all of the island's plants, leading to wind erosion of exposed sand and driving to extinction three land bird taxa.  Albatrosses were also heavily exploited for their feathers, eggs and guano around this time, leading to massive mortality.

The degradation of Laysan Island led to the creation of the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909.  In recent years successful efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have eliminated most pests, such as Polynesian Rats Rattus exulans, the rabbits (believed absent since 1923), and weeds, and restored much of the native vegetation on the island with translocations and plantings.  As a result, Laysan Duck Anas laysanensis and Laysan Finch Telespiza cantans populations are increasing and the Millerbird Acrocephalus familiaris has been reintroduced (click here).  This good news is tempered by the risk Laysan (and all the low-lying NWHI islands) face from impending sea-level rise, as well as from storms and tsunamis.

An adult Short-tailed Albatross turns up on Laysan Island (click here)

With thanks to Greg McClelland and Mark Rauzon for their photographs and information.

Selected Literature:

Arata, J.A., Sievert, P.R. & Naughton, M.B. 2009.  Status Assessment of Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses, North Pacific Ocean, 1923-2000.  U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5131.  Reston: U.S. Geological Survey.

Cousins, K. & Cooper, J. 2000.  The Population Biology of the Black-footed Albatross in Relation to Mortality caused by Longline Fishing.  Honolulu: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

Ely, C.A. & Clapp, R.B. 1973.  The natural history of Laysan Island, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  Atoll Research Bulletin No. 171.  361 pp.

Frierson, P. 2012.  The Last Atoll.  Exploring Hawai’i’s Endangered Ecosystems.  San Antonio: Trinity University Press.  309 pp.

Harrison, C.S. 1990.  Seabirds of Hawaii:  Natural History and Conservation.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 249 pp.

McClelland, G.T.W., Jones, I.L., Lavers, J.L. & Sato, F. 2008.  Breeding biology of Tristram's Storm-petrel Oceanodroma tristrami at French Frigate Shoals and Laysan Island, Northwest Hawaiian Islands.  Marine Ornithology 36: 175-181.

Naughton, M.B., Romano, M.D. & Zimmerman, T.S. 2007.  A Conservation Action Plan for Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) and Laysan Albatross (P. immutabilis).  Version 1.0.

Pyle, R.L. & Pyle, P. 2009.  The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands: Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status.  Version 1.  Honolulu: B.P. Bishop Museum.

Rauzon, M. J. 2001.  Isles of Refuge.  Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.  205 pp.

Storlazzi, C.D., Berkowitz, P., Reynolds, M.H. & Logan, J.B. 2013.  Forecasting the Impact of Storm Waves and Sea-level Rise on Midway Atoll and Laysan Island within the Papahānaumokuākea  Marine National Monument - a Comparison of Passive versus Dynamic Inundation Models.  U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013-1069.  78 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 06 April 2014

Tristan da Cunha plans an aerial survey of its endemic Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses with ACAP help

The United Kingdom’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has recently been awarded two separate grants, one from the Albatross and Petrel Agreement’s Advisory Committee (click here), the other from “Darwin Plus”, the UK’s Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund, that together will lead to an assessment of the global population size of the ACAP-listed and Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos at its breeding grounds in the Tristan da Cunha Island group.

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross on its nest

Photograph by Peter Ryan

Because of the rugged and in parts inaccessible terrain of the Tristan islands ground surveys are particularly hard to undertake, so the plan is to conduct photographic surveys of breeding yellow-nosed albatrosses by helicopter.  It is intended to undertake the aerial surveys in September this year during the incubation period when nest occupation levels are expected to be at their highest.

The logistic support of South Africa’s Antarctic research and supply ship, the S.A. Agulhas II, which carries two helicopters, will be sought when it conducts the annual relief of the South African meteorological station on Gough Island.  During the relief the ship will also visit the main island of Tristan da Cunha.

The population figures for each island surveyed will be obtained from sequential overlapping aerial photographs taken at low altitude.  The photographs will be merged using software to form photomontages following standard protocols and capitalising on recent advances in imaging quality and processing.  Apparently occupied nests can then be relatively accurately counted from these montages on-screen.

The RSPB will work closely with the Tristan Conservation Department which will assist by providing the teams that will undertake the necessary ground truthing on both Gough and Tristan.  If time and weather allows, aerial photography will also be undertaken at Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands.  If all four islands are surveyed then the resulting census will result in the first-ever accurate annual breeding population figure for the species, which is endemic to the four Tristan islands and the islets of Middle and Stoltenhoff next to Nightingale.

The need for such a survey was identified by ACAP’s Advisory Committee at its 2013 meeting (AC7) in La Rochelle, France.  As part of the project the Tristan Conservation Department will be guided to expand its existing monitoring programme for Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses on Nightingale and Tristan to allow the ongoing assessment of population trends “which combined with the full census, would allow the conservation community to observe whether existing conservation measures are achieving conservation targets for this species, and whether other actions are needed to prevent population declines.”

With thanks to Clare Stringer, RSPB UK Overseas Territories Unit 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, 05 April 2014

Helping a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross chick fledge on Macquarie Island.

Albatross PhD student Jamie Cleeland writes at the end of last month from Australia’s Macquarie Island:

“Resupply is coming and the station is buzzing!  With all 41 expeditioners back on station there are many preparations to be made for the L’Astrolabe, which is expected to arrive any day now.  Despite the increased workload (including cleaning, fixing, packing and more cleaning) that the trade staff has faced this week, they have still found time to help out a Macca local in need.

Earlier in the season albatross researchers Jaimie and Kate noticed a light-mantled albatross (or ‘Sooty’) [Phoebetria palpebrata] had built its nest directly under the station water pipe.  Over the season they monitored its health, watching the adults incubate and then coming and going, feeding its young chick. Now the chick is starting to show adult feathers and is flapping its wings in preparation for its first flight out to sea.  Taking a leap into the air for the first time is fraught with danger, even more so if a water pipe is blocking your passageway to the ocean.

The albatross chick  and the water pipe before translocation

Climbing Gadgets Gully to the albatross nest, with the water pipe on the right

Moving the water pipe  away from the albatross nest

Rejoining the pipe

So on Monday, after all the necessary paperwork had been completed, Josh (the plumber), Dave (the specialist tradesman), Kris and Chris (the long and the short of the ranger team) and myself headed up Gadgets Gully to begin the clearing runway for Albatross Project.  A quick planning meeting was had onsite, where different options for pipe relocation were presented.  It was unanimously decided that we cut the pipe above the nest, insert a new section and divert the pipe around to the south of the bluff the nest was on.  This procedure took our expert plumber only a few minutes to cut, move and join the heavy pipe, leaving the albatross runway unobstructed.  A few supporting pickets were put in place to ensure the pipe would not disturb any wildlife in the future.  In the sunshine we headed back down Gadgets Gully happy that the little chick had every chance to fledge successfully.”

With thanks to Jaimie Cleeland (pictured above) for permission to republish her account (click hereand use her photographs.  Her project is entitled "Environmental and anthropogenic influences on population and demographic status and trends on four species of Southern Ocean Albatross."  View her photographs of Macquarie's albatrosses here.

Albatross research on Macquarie Island is managed and operated by an all-woman team: Rosemary Gales and Rachael Alderman as Chief Investigator and Co-investigator, respectively, based in Hobart and Jaimie and Kate Lawrence as the field team on the island. Click here for an earlier news story by Kate on working with Macca's albatrosses.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 April 2014

The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve gets larger: good for its albatrosses and petrels

The Australian Government has announced the expansion of the sub-Antarctic Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve in the southern Indian Ocean by 6200 km², to 71 200 km² (click here).

Heard Island's central Big Ben and Mawson Peak

Photograph by Barbara Weinecke

 A view of McDonald Island, photograph by Phil Moors

“Located 4,100 kilometres south-west of Perth, Heard Island and the McDonald Islands are home to truly unique flora and fauna that survive in a dynamic natural environment dominated by volcanic activity and glaciers.  The original Reserve was declared in October 2002.

The Reserve’s boundaries were amended via Proclamation, with the Governor-General signing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Heard Island and McDonald Islands) Proclamation 2014 on 25 March 2014.  The Australian Government’s decision to expand the Reserve follows a comprehensive scientific assessment of the region’s conservation values and extensive consultation with key stakeholders.  This scientific assessment recommended that 6,200 square kilometres of ocean should be added to the Reserve on the basis that its waters are of high conservation value.  These high conservation value waters possess outstanding and representative ecosystems, distinct benthic habitats and species, and foraging grounds for seabirds and mammals.

One of the most biologically pristine areas in the world, Heard Island and the McDonald Islands were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in December 1997 on the basis of their outstanding natural universal values.

Now possessing an area of 71,200 square kilometres, the Reserve is Australia’s largest IUCN 1a Strict Nature Reserve.  IUCN Category 1a Strict Nature Reserves are designated to protect habitats, ecosystems and native species in an as undisturbed state as possible.  Public access is primarily limited to scientific research and environmental monitoring.  It is the highest level of protection afforded under the IUCN principles.  The protection of these high conservation value waters within an IUCN Category 1a Strict Nature Reserve demonstrates the Australian Government’s commitment to the sustainable management of our great ocean resources.

The Reserve also includes the Commonwealth’s only active volcano. Rising 2745 metres above sea level, Mawson Peak is also the highest point outside of the Australian Antarctic Territory.  Sporadic volcanic activity has been observed on Mawson Peak since 2012.”

View a map of the marine reserve showing its extensions here.

Selected Literature:

Australian Antarctic Division 2005.  Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan.  Kingston: Australian Antarctic Division.  198 pp.

Green, K & Woehler, E.J. (Eds) 2006.  Heard Island Southern Ocean Sentinel.  Chipping Norton: Surrey Beatty & Sons.  270 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 03 April 2014

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

About ACAP

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119 Macquarie St
Hobart TAS 7000

Tel: +61 3 6165 6674