Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Concern for albatrosses while White-chinned Petrels recolonize: population monitoring on Campbell Island, 2019/2020


Southern Royal Albatrosses display on Campbell Island

 The Conservation Service Programme of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has published four final reports for project BCBC2019-03: Seabird population research, Campbell Island 2019/20 that cover population monitoring and surveys conducted on albatrosses and petrels on the island during the austral summer.

The following text summarizing the four reports comes from the Department of Conservation:

Field survey component

The objectives of this project were to collect photo-point and ground-truthing data at Campbell and grey-headed albatross colonies, repeat whole-island counts of breeding Northern giant petrels, collect GLS trackers from Southern royal albatrosses, use sound recorders to record burrowing petrel distribution and check the bands of all banded birds seen. The 1996 census of breeding Northern giant petrels (Macronectes hallii) around the island was repeated. Adjusting chick counts to correct for breeding failures gave an estimated 150 (range 134–173) breeding pairs in 2019. This appears broadly similar to the last count in 1996. Three tracking devices were recovered from Southern royal albatrosses (Diomedea epomophora). Numbers of Southern royals in the Col-Lyall colony seemed low, highlighting the need to repeat the island-wide census last done 2004–08, and to resume mark-recapture in the study colony to assess the population’s current status. Sound recorders captured white-headed petrels (Pterodroma lessonii) calls at Campbell Island, supporting the idea that a small population may breed there. Recorders also provided evidence that white-chinned petrels (Procellaria aequinoctialis) are recolonising multiple areas on the main Campbell Island from its offshore islets, extending the known distribution northward to Northwest Bay and Switchback Ridge.

Photo count component

Aerial photographs were taken during two Navy helicopter flights along the coast, six days apart in mid-to-late November 2019. Ground-level photographs were taken from 14 fixed vantage points overlooking the eight sites where mollymawks breed. Information on overall numbers were derived for the larger colonies from the aerial photographs, supplemented by more detailed information on species composition and what proportion of the birds were sitting on nests or standing (occasionally sitting) around, either as partners of nesting birds, or as courting pre-breeders, or simply just loafing.

Overall, an estimated 22,766 Campbell Mollymawks and 5,937 Grey-headed Mollymawks appeared to be occupying nests, although not all of these necessarily involved a bird sitting on an egg. In a contemporaneous survey at the Bull Rock South colony, 18% of occupied nests were empty. If this figure applies more widely, the actual number of breeding pairs at the time of the survey could be lower: 18,668 and 4,868 pairs of Campbell and Grey-headed mollymawks, respectively. A further 4,933 Campbell Mollymawk individuals (just under 18 % of the species’ total) and 1,344 Grey-headed Mollymawks (just over 18 % of that species’ total) were recorded loafing. The November 2019 survey was carried out about three-fifths of the way through the species’ incubation period, assuming peak egg laying around 10th October. By the time of the survey, some nests would have failed, so the initial number of nests will be higher. Using regression formulae developed during earlier surveys to account for these losses, the number of nesting Campbell and Grey-headed Mollymawk pairs at the start of the 2019 breeding season was estimated to be 24,338 and 6,429, respectively.

These figures, compared with those covering the past 25 years, suggest that the Campbell Mollymawk population is relatively stable, whereas the Grey-headed Mollymawk population has continued to decline by around 0.84 % per annum since the mid-1990s.

Southern Royal Albatross breeding assessment

A March 2020 trip to Campbell Island included follow-up work from the November 2019 trip in addition to work focusing on southern royal albatross (Diomedea epomophora). The main aims were retrieving GLS devices, resighting bands and PIT tags, and conducting nest counts of southern royal albatross in the Col study area (and Honey index area, if time permitted). Nest counts would be used to gain insight into population trends and provide a ground count to compare to aerial photographs and satellite imagery. Aerial photographs of the Campbell (Thalassarche impavida) and grey-headed albatross (T. chrysostoma) colonies at Bull Rock and adjacent north-eastern colonies were repeated from November to determine breeding success. Sound recorders were deployed on Beeman Hill to assess abundance and distribution of petrels.

Mollymawk chick numbers and survival

An aerial photographic survey of the mixed Campbell Mollymawk, T. impavida, and Grey-headed Mollymawk, T. chrysostoma, colonies along the north-east coast of Campbell Island was carried out on 17 March 2020. At this time, most of the birds present at these colonies would have been chicks. The aim of the study was therefore to establish the number of chicks in these colonies and relate this to the number of nesting adults estimated from a combined aerial and ground level photographic survey carried out earlier in the nesting season in November 2019. Campbell Mollymawks made up 90 % of these nesting birds, with Grey-headed Mollymawks the remainder. Overall nesting success at the mixed mollymawk colonies along the north-east coast of Campbell Island during the 2019–20 breeding season was 50–60 %, with a best estimate of around 58 %. This is broadly in line with the level of nesting success measured for Campbell Mollymawk during 1984–96, the predominant species present in these colonies.


A Grey-headed and a Campbell Albatross interact on Campbell Island, photographs by Rachael Orben


Frost, P.G.H. 2020.  Status of Campbell Island and Grey-headed Mollymawks on the northern coasts of Campbell Island, 2019.  Whanganui: Science Support Service.  25 pp.

Frost, P. & Mischler, C. 2020.  Mollymawk Chick Numbers and Survival on Campbell Island, November 2019-March 2020.  Whanganui: Science Support Service & Twizel: Department of Conservation.  14 pp.

Mischler, C. 2020.  Campbell Island/ Motu Ihupuku Seabird Research March 2020.  Twizel: Department of Conservation.  25 pp.

Rexer-Huber K., Parker K.A. & Parker G.C. 2020.  Campbell Island Seabirds: Operation Endurance November 2019.  Final Report to Department of Conservation, Marine Species.  April 2020.  Dunedin: Parker Conservation.  23 pp.

Reports available here.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 16 October 2020

Evidence for population effects from plastic pollution remains missing for seabirds

Laysan Albatross chick

Individual or population effect?  A decomposing Laysan Albatross chick with a heavy plastic load on Midway Atoll

 Jesse Senko (School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Endangered Species Research reviewing evidence for population effects from plastic pollution in seabirds and other marine vertebrates: “no study in the past 50 yr reported direct evidence of population-level effects”.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Plastic pollution is increasing rapidly throughout the world’s oceans and is considered a major threat to marine wildlife and ecosystems. Although known to cause lethal or sub-lethal effects to vulnerable marine megafauna, population-level impacts of plastic pollution have not been thoroughly investigated. Here, we compiled and evaluated information from peer-reviewed studies that reported deleterious individual-level effects of plastic pollution on air-breathing marine megafauna (i.e. seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles) worldwide, highlighting those that assessed potential population-level effects. Lethal and sub-lethal individual-level effects included drowning, starvation, gastrointestinal tract damage, malnutrition, physical injury, reduced mobility, and physiological stress, resulting in reduced energy acquisition and assimilation, compromised health, reproductive impairment, and mortality. We found 47 studies published between 1969 and 2020 that considered population-level effects of plastic entanglement (n = 26), ingestion (n = 19), or both (n = 2). Of these, 7 inferred population-level effects (n = 6, entanglement; n = 1, ingestion), whereas 19 lacked evidence for effects (n = 12, entanglement; n = 6, ingestion; n = 1, both). However, no study in the past 50 yr reported direct evidence of population-level effects. Despite increased interest in and awareness of the presence of plastic pollution throughout the world’s oceans, the extent and magnitude of demographic impacts on marine megafauna remains largely unassessed and therefore unknown, in contrast to well-documented effects on individuals. Addressing this major assessment gap will allow researchers and managers to compare relative effects of multiple threats—including plastic pollution—on marine megafauna populations, thus providing appropriate context for strategic conservation priority-setting.”


Senko, J.F., Nelms, S.E., Reavis, J.L., Witherington, B., Godley, B.J. & Wallace, B.P. 2020.  Understanding individual and population-level effects of plastic pollution on marine megafauna.  Endangered Species Research 43: 234-252.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 15 October 2020

35 000 “extra” deaths of Antipodean Albatrosses since 2004 estimated by New Zealand researchers

Antipodean Albatross colour banded Kath Walker 

 A colour-banded Antipodean Albatross on Antipodes Island, photograph by Kath Walker

Graeme Elliott & Kath Walker (Department of Conservation, New Zealand) have reported to the Department's  Conservation Service Programme on their most recent field trip to study globally Endangered and Nationally Critical Antipodean Albatrosses Diomedea antipodensis on Antipodes Island.

The report’s abstract follows:

“The Antipodean wandering albatross Diomedea antipodensis antipodensis has been in decline since 2007. The decline appears to be driven in large part by high female mortality, though reduced breeding success and increased recruitment age have exacerbated the problem.

Difficulty reaching Antipodes Island in the 2019/20 summer meant field studies were undertaken much later than usual, and the COVID-19 pandemic meant less than two weeks was spent on Antipodes Island, from 15–28 March 2020. As a result, assessment of 2019 nesting success (59%) was a little coarser than previously and the chicks had all fledged before we arrived to band them. It also meant that birds which visited Antipodes Island to breed but failed early, or which left the island early after failing to find their usual breeding partner, were not recorded. This included birds wearing satellite transmitters in 2019 whose survival after their transmitters stopped working could not be verified.

Only 75 pairs nested in the study area in 2020, amongst the lowest recorded, but female survival in 2019 had increased over previous years, at least amongst non-breeding females. Breeding female survivorship in 2019 was at an unsustainable 74%, though this estimate was likely affected by the late timing of Antipodes Island fieldwork in 2020. There is so far, no evidence of the sustained improvement in female survival necessary for the population to recover.

Since 2009 there has been an estimated 1,000 “extra” deaths per year of adult albatrosses over and above their normal mortality, and if the mortality rate amongst younger pre-breeding birds is similar, then approximately 1,300 “extra” deaths per annum also occurred amongst younger birds. This suggests that since 2004 about 15,000 “extra” adults have died, and about 20,000 “extra” pre-breeding birds, of which about 70% have been female.

Forty satellite transmitters were deployed in mid-March 2020, 25 on females (10 breeding) and 15 on males (7 breeding). Half were battery-powered and the remaining 20 transmitters were solar-powered. Most of the birds were adults which had bred before, but nine were relatively young female pre-breeders (7–11 years old). This deployment aims to identify fishing fleets with high levels of spatial and temporal overlap with Antipodean wandering albatrosses in 2020.”

WAD banner Antipodes Kath Walker Graeme Elliott shrunk

 Kath Walker and Graeme Elliott on Antipodes Island, with a curious Antipodean Albatross


Elliott, G. & Walker, K. 2020.  Antipodean wandering albatross: satellite tracking and population study Antipodes Island 2020.  Wellington: Conservation Services Programme, Department of Conservation.  54 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 October 2020

Proposal to assess post-release survival of bycaught seabirds by satellite tracking

Black Petrel Zufelt off North Cape NZ 3 

Black Petrel, a species suggested for assessing post-release survival, photograph by Kirk Zufelt

 Mike Bell (Wildlife Management International) has produced a final report for the Conservation Service Programme of the New Zealand Department of Conservation that recommends satellite tracking injured seabirds following accidental capture by fishing vessels to ascertain their post-release survival.

The report’s executive summary follows:

“This report reviews methodologies and tracking devices used to study seabird survival and assesses their suitability for development of a future field-based project to determine post-release survival rates.  With recent technological advances the use of miniature satellite tracking devices was determined to be the most effective method to assess the fate of released seabirds following accidental capture by fishing vessels.  A range of operational, biological and environmental factors may constrain a tracking study of injured seabirds.  Some of these factors have the potential to significantly impact the likelihood of successfully monitoring the post-release survival, and these are discussed.

Assessment of the health of live seabirds that have interacted with fishing vessels will first need to be carried out to select suitable individuals to track survival and ensure tracking maximises identifying cryptic mortality rates.  Individuals with severe injuries that will not survive, and those with no injuries that will likely survive, should not be tracked.  Birds with moderate injures where survival probability is uncertain should be tracked, as these provide the best opportunity to understanding true cryptic mortality rates.  To achieve this a “Seabird Heath Assessment Tool” has been developed to guide future research.

It is recommended that a review be undertaken of existing seabird injury data, held by Fisheries NZ (FNZ) as recorded by fisheries observers on Observer Protected Species Interaction (PSI) forms, and electronic monitoring (EM) video footage, to categorise (using the health assessment tool presented here) and investigate the number, nature and extent of injuries sustained by seabirds returned alive at-sea, in order to refine the following field-based recommendation.

Considering the above factors, a field-based programme utilising satellite tracking with Teleonics TAV series Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTTs) is recommended as the best method to assess post-release survival of seabirds that interact with commercial fisheries. Although relatively expensive, this method provides the only method which is likely to return sufficient data on behaviour and post-release survival.  Target species for tracking should include control groups (healthy seabirds), medium sized seabirds (i.e. black petrel, flesh-footed shearwater, and Buller’s shearwater) in FMA1 and FMA9, and albatross species in FMA5 and FMA6. The study should aim to track ≥30 birds from each group which would likely require a 3-5 year study period.”


Bell, M.D. 2020.  Investigation of options for assessing the post-release survival of seabirds that interact with commercial fisheries in New Zealand.  Final Report for project INT2019-06 prepared by Wildlife Management International Ltd for the Conservation Service Programme, Department of Conservation. 33 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 13 October 2020

Help conserve the Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater. Consultant required for the Med-Bycatch Project in Morocco and Tunisia


Balearic Shearwater at sea

The Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus endemic as a breeding species to the western Mediterranean with an at-sea distribution that includes the waters of Morocco and Tunisia is caught as bycatch by longline fisheries.  An opportunity to help conserve this ACAP-listed species with an imminent application deadline in two days’ time has been brought to the attention of ACAP Latest News today.  Information on the consultancy with the Medbycatch Project from BirdLife International follows.

“BirdLife International seeks to hire a consultant on part-time basis to support coordination of Med-Bycatch Project in Morocco and Tunisia.  The Mediterranean Bycatch Project is a partnership between ACCOBAMS, General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), Special Protected Areas/Regional Activity Centre (SPA/RAC), International Union for the Conservation of Nature-Mediterranean (IUCN-Med), BirdLife International, WWF, and Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles (MEDASSET).  It aims to improve knowledge, build capacity and develop tools needed to reduce the incidental catch of vulnerable species in the Mediterranean. The on-the-ground activities involve implementing standardised data collection and testing mitigation measures towards effectively reducing single and multi-taxa bycatch, through a collaboration approach between national fisheries institutes, local NGOs and fishers and fishing associations. The project plans to leverage change across the Mediterranean countries on the issue of incidental catch of vulnerable species, including through communication and advocacy activities with the fishing industries and decision-makers.”

The consultant will monitor the implementation of project activities by the BirdLife Partners in Morocco and Tunisia (including through participation in regular coordination calls with other project partners).

  • Provide technical inputs and support in relation to the organisation of bycatch observer trainings, production of technical reports presenting the results of the bycatch observation programme, organisation of national roundtable meetings, development of communication materials.
  • Support BirdLife Partners in Morocco and Tunisia to develop organisational strategies for engagement on sustainable fisheries and marine conservation to inform their work beyond the end of the MAVA funding.
  • Ensure timely submission of technical and financial reports by the BirdLife Partners in Morocco and Tunisia.
  • Facilitate information exchange and knowledge sharing between the West Africa Bycatch project team and the Med Bycatch project partners.

Proficiency in oral and written English and French required; application deadline: 14 October 2020; start date November 2020; flexi working arrangement, including the option of working from home.  Application that describes the individual’s core competencies and qualifications to undertake the tasks, including examples of previous work undertaken in the last five years, plus cover letter, detailed CV and a financial quote should be sent to  Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

Read full details here.

Information from Stephanie Prince, High Seas Programme Manager, BirdLife International Marine Programme.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 October 2020