Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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ACAP’s Advisory Committee declares a conservation crisis for albatrosses and petrels

The Advisory Committee identified an urgent and continuing conservation crisis for albatrosses and petrels at its Eleventh Meeting (AC11) held in Brazil this May.  Thousands of albatrosses and petrels are continuing to die every year as a result of fisheries operations, notably by longline and trawl vessels.  Despite efforts that have been put into researching and recommending effective mitigation measures to address seabird bycatch in fisheries by ACAP and other bodies, in many instances these were not being implemented or were not being fully implemented.  A lack of compliance with measures adopted by those Regional Fisheries Management Organisations responsible for high-seas tuna fisheries (tuna RFMOs) was identified as a critical issue.

A globally Vulnerable Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans has drowned after getting caught on a tuna longline hook, photograph by Graham Robertson

The Advisory Committee discussed ways of addressing this crisis, and agreed to seek views on how to enhance ACAP’s engagement with other role players to work constructively together to address the bycatch of albatrosses and petrels by fisheries.  In addition, the committee decided on ways to get its message across more broadly, through a revised communications strategy, engagement with fisheries certification schemes and ongoing refinement and dissemination of ACAP’s best-practice guidelines and advice.

The Eleventh Meeting of ACAP’s Advisory Committee (AC11) was held in Florianópolis, Brazil from 13 to 17 May with Nathan Walker (New Zealand) as Chair and Tatiana Neves (Brazil) as Vice-chair.  AC11 followed meetings of the AC’s Working Groups on Seabird Bycatch (SBWG9) and Population and Conservation Status (PaCSWG5) at the same venue.

AC11 was attended by eight of ACAP’s 13 Parties; observers were present from The Bahamas (for the first time), Canada, Namibia and the United States of America, as well as from Chinese Taipei, an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) member economy – also for the first time.  NGOs in attendance were Humane Society International and Projeto Albatroz.  The meeting was opened with a welcome speech by Marilia Marques Guimarães Marini, Head of the Department of Conservation and Species Management, Ministry of the Environment, Brazil.  The 57-page report of the four-day meeting is now available on this website.  Official French and Spanish versions of the report are due to be posted by the end of July.  A second posting to ACAP Latest News will summarize other matters of interest discussed at the Eleventh Advisory Committee meeting.

Christine Bogle, ACAP Executive Secretary, 14 June 2019

Hope still for albatrosses?  A globally Endangered Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis identified as from the gibsoni subspecies flies towards the rainbow

Photograph by Rohan Clarke

International support to save albatrosses and petrels: Australia and USA scientists donate time-depth recorders to colleagues in Argentina and Brazil

Time-depth recorders (TDRs) were donated by Australian and American scientists to South American colleagues at the Eleventh Meeting of the ACAP Advisory Committee (AC11), held in the Jurerê Internacional region of Florianópolis, Brazil last month.

TDRs are devices originally developed to be placed on diving animals that can also be used to measure the sinking rate of longline branch lines bearing baited hooks.  The donated equipment will aid conservation research aimed at saving albatrosses and petrels by Argentinian researchers and the Brazilian NGO, Projeto Albatroz.

Edward Melvin (Washington Sea Grant, USA) , handed over the TDRs on behalf of himself  and Graham Robertson (formerly Australian Antarctic Division) to the founder and general coordinator of Projeto Albatroz, Tatiana Neves and to Juan Pablo Seco Pon (Institute of Marine and Coastal Research, University of Mar del Plata, Argentina), in the Il Campanario Villagio Resort, where the international meetings were taking place.

 

Juan Pablo Seco Pon, Edward Melvin and Tatiana Neves with the donated TDRs, photograph from Projeto Albatroz

"Because we are initiating research to see how the hook pod mini (click here) works on Brazilian longline vessels, the donated TDRs will be of great value to us," said Tatiana Neves, who is also Vice-chair of the ACAP Advisory Committee.  This will help us find even more relevant results for birds and fishers. "

For the scientific coordinator of Projeto Albatroz, Dimas Gianuca, the TDRs will play an important role in the next studies of the institution.  “They will be used to check the sinking rate of the hooks used on pelagic longlines as well as of hooks in different bottom longline configurations to verify which sink rate offers the least risk of capture to seabirds ".

According to Edward Melvin, the decision to donate the equipment to Project Albatroz came with the end of his academic career. "I and a retired friend have undertaken a lot of work on mitigate catching seabirds," he explains. "At that time, we accumulated equipment that we would like to pass on to other researchers who are on the front line of conservation and we could not think of a better place to donate them than in South America, especially to Brazil and Argentina."

Juan Pablo also highlighted the role of South America in studies of sinking of baits. "We can speak different languages, but there are several types of fisheries we share, as well as several bird species that fly over the South Atlantic and South Pacific. This exchange of research between institutions is very valuable to us and is one of the pillars of this Agreement".

Translated and edited from the original Portuguese article under the heading Doação de equipamentos ajudará Projeto Albatroz em pesquisas em prol da conservação marinha (click here).

With thanks to Ed Melvin and Tatiana Neves.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 13 June 2019

Tracking and counting Gibson’s Antipodean and White-capped Albatrosses and White-chinned Petrels in the Auckland Islands, 2018-2019

Kalinka Rexer-Huber (Parker Conservation) and colleagues have presented a draft final report to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation at a meeting of its Conservation Services Programme (CSP) Technical Working Group late last month that details their field research on three ACAP-listed species on the Auckland Islands.  The three taxa are:  Antipodean Albatross of the Gibson’s subspecies Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni, White-capped Albatross Thalassarche steadi and White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis.

The report’s summary follows:

“This report details the mark-recapture methods and findings for white-chinned petrels, Gibson’s albatrosses and white-capped albatrosses. For Gibson’s albatross, we present data on the size of the nesting population in 2019, and updated estimates of survival, productivity and recruitment to help identify causes of current population size and trends. We also document tracking methods and device recoveries for all three species, and for white-capped albatrosses, describe nest camera recoveries and aerial photographic work.

White-chinned petrels. Three global location sensor (GLS) tracking devices were recovered and forty-seven banded white-chinned petrels were recaptured (recapture rate 0.27). Some burrow-switching has occurred, with three banded birds in new burrows ~2–5m from the burrow where first banded, justifying checks in unmarked burrows. With further banding this season, the study area now contains 230 banded white-chinned petrels in 131 marked burrows. Further resighting effort is needed before demographic parameters can be estimated reliably.

Gibson’s albatross. Nesting success has returned to levels recorded before the 2005 crash and appears to have stabilised, with 61% productivity in the 2017–2018 breeding season. The survival rate of adult males and females is now similar though survival remains below pre-crash levels. Breeding numbers in 2018-2019 continued the slow post-crash increase. The total estimated number of breeding pairs of Gibson’s wandering albatrosses in 2018–19 was 4,180, just under half the number of pairs breeding in 2004 (i.e., 8,728) before the population crashed. With annual mortality a little higher than it used to be, a total population substantially smaller than it used to be and more than a decade of low chick production, population recovery is likely to be slow.

White-capped albatross. Banded white-capped albatrosses were resighted at a rate of 0.34, and a further 122 breeding white-capped albatrosses were banded bringing the study colony total to 679 birds banded. Four GLS tracking devices were retrieved, and one further bird which had lost its GLS (or had it removed) was resighted.

Nest cameras gave up to 9½ months of data from deployment in January 2018. Chick success, or the survival of a chick from hatching to fledging, was lower than expected at 0.29 (5 out of 17 nests). Chicks fledged ~27 July (range 12 July–23 August), and adults returned to the colony from around 30 September. Low chick success is a concern since breeding success (survival from egg lay to fledging) will be lower than chick success. To estimate breeding success, nest cameras must follow the full breeding season, and all parameters (chick success, dates of fledging and adult return) would benefit from following more nests than in this trial.

Aerial photographs of the Disappointment Castaways B area were taken on 7 February around 1400 hrs. 260 suitable photos have been archived for interpretation at a later date. The main difference to previous aerial photography work is the timing: photographs in 2019 were taken 3 weeks later. Nest counts from these photographs will have to be corrected for breeding failures during incubation.”

 

Gibson's Antipodean Albatross on Adams Island, Auckland Islands, photograph by Colin O'Donell

The Conservation Services Programme monitors the impact of commercial fishing on protected species, studies species populations and looks at ways to limit bycatch. The programme is funded by levies from commercial fishers.

With thanks to Graham Parker.

Rexer-Huber, K., Elliott, G., Thompson, D., Walker, K. & Parker, G. 2019.  Seabird populations, demography and tracking: Gibson’s albatross, white-capped albatross and white-chinned petrels in the Auckland Islands 2018-19.  DRAFT FINAL Report to the Conservation Services Programme, Department of Conservation.  Dunedin: Parker Conservation 19 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 June 2019

Links with ACAP as South Africa revises its National Plan of Action – Seabirds

South Africa, a Party to the Albatross and Petrel Agreement (ACAP), has instituted a process to revise and update its National Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Fisheries (NPOA-Seabirds).  The current plan, adopted in 2008, came after a several-year process with a first draft being submitted to the government authority in November 2002, with a second draft following review submitted in December 2003.  The final draft followed on from a Stakeholders Workshop held in South Africa in January 2003.  These two draft texts were produced at the University of Cape Town by academic ornithologists John Cooper and Peter Ryan, following the guidelines for NPOA-Seabirds set out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in its IPOA-Seabirds document published in 1999.  In line with the IPOA-Seabirds the draft was made up of two parts.  Firstly, came a detailed assessment of the level of seabird bycatch in different South African longline fisheries (which the text describes) along with a summary of relevant South African legislation and a description of the affected seabird species.  The second part was the national plan itself, which described recommended mitigation measures, as well as considering research and development, education, training and publicity, and data collection. The texts, whose production was funded by the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI), were submitted to the then Branch: Marine and Coastal Management of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism, recently reconstituted as the Department of the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF).

The officially adopted 2008 text, given the new knowledge that had come to light on seabird mortality from colliding with warps and cables, was expanded to include trawl fisheries and did not include the assessment in the drafts described above.

South Africa's 2008 NPOA-Seabirds - now under revision

DEFF's Oceans and Coasts Branch is now leading on the latest revision, with the intention of having a new NPOA-Seabirds, adopted in time to submit it to the Seventh Meeting of the Parties to ACAP, expected to be held in Hobart, Australia in 2021.  To this end a revision working group held its first meeting last week, with a small group of experts from DEFF, BirdLife South Africa’s Seabird Conservation Programme (Andrea Angel) and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town (Peter Ryan), as well as ACAP’s Information Officer.  The Meeting was co-chaired by Azwianewi Makhado (South Africa's ACAP National Contact Point) and Herman Oosthuizen, both from DEFF.  At the meeting it was decided to co-opt Anton Wolfaardt, a Co-convenor of ACAP’s Seabird Bycatch Working Group (SBWG) and who is based in South Africa. Another member of the SBWG, Johan de Goede of DEFF, is also a member of the revision group.

During the meeting a way forward was decided on improving and expanding an existing revision, which had been produced under contract earlier.  Individual group members were given sections to work on, with the intention of convening a second group meeting once a new text can be collated.  As well as considering longline and trawl fisheries, the new South African NPOA-Seabirds will also take account of any seabird bycatch that might occur in other South African marine fisheries, including tuna pole and line, purse-seining, and fixed/gill nets.

References:

Cooper, J. & Ryan, P.G 2002.  South African National Plan of Action for Reducing the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries.  [Rondebosch: University of Cape Town].  95 pp.

Cooper, J. & Ryan, P.G 2003.  South African National Plan of Action for Reducing the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries.  [Rondebosch: University of Cape Town].  103 pp.

FAO 1999.  International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries.  International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.  International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity.  Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  26 pp.

South Africa [Cooper, J., Petersen, S. & Ryan, P.G.] 2008.  South African National Plan of Action for Reducing the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries.  [Cape Town]: Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism.  32 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 June 2019

UPDATED: At-sea tracking of juvenile Grey-headed Albatrosses from the South Atlantic

UPDATE:  The tracked birds have been travelling in a north-easterly direction and are starting to pass the southern tip of Africa - and Cape Town where ACAP's Information Officer lives.  One bird has flown over 10 700 km as of 10 June.  Access the regularly updated tracking map here.

A Grey-headed Albatross chick from the 2018 Bird Island cohort.  The satellite tracker's aerial can be seen. Photograph by Derren Fox

ACAP meetings in Brazil this and last week heard of research conducted on 16 globally Endangered Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma chicks close to fledging fitted with PTTs (“Platform Transmitter Terminals” or satellite trackers) at Bird Island, South Georgia/Islas Georgias del Sur* in the South Atlantic during May last year.  The Bird Island population is an ACAP Priority Population for study as it is currently considered to be declining in size with annual survival rates of juveniles lower than expected.  One bird flew across the southern Indian Ocean past New Zealand into the Pacific Ocean, travelling a total of 49 604 km when last recorded on 12 December 2018 (see also abstract at PaCSWG5 Inf 19).

 “There are records from observers on board fishing vessels that immature birds are killed in pelagic longline fisheries in some areas that are not used regularly by nonbreeding adults. In addition, circumstantial evidence suggests that because of the population decline there may have been a density-dependent increase in predation by giant petrels [Macronectes sp.] of juvenile grey-headed albatrosses both as they fledge and in the few days immediately thereafter when they often rest on the sea close to the island.

For these reasons, there is an urgent need to:

  • map the movements and foraging areas of juveniles in order to determine the overlap with fisheries,
  • assess the survival rate of juveniles in the initial weeks and months after they fledge.”

The work is therefore continuing with another 16 Grey-headed Albatross chicks fitted with trackers over 11/12 May this year; five of these have now fledged.  The juveniles are being tracked in near real-time with a duty cycle of eight hours on and 43 hours off.  As of today the longest distance travelled by one of these five is 1572 km, in a north-easterly direction.    Read more and access the regularly updated tracking map here.

With thanks to Richard Phillips and Andy Wood for information and Derren Fox for the photograph.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 May 2019, updated 10 June 2019

*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.

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