Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators embraces the arrival of World Albatross Day in 2020


The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) is a non-profit member organisation that advocates and promotes the practice of safe, environmentally responsible private-sector travel to Antarctica.  Founded in 1991 by seven established Antarctic operators, IAATO is today comprised of more than 100 respected companies from across the world.  They are united by a commitment to plan their activities to have no more than a minor or transitory impact on the environment and to create a corps of ambassadors for the region’s continued protection.

IAATO benefits from having a diverse membership but is largely a vibrant seafaring community with a deep affection for the Southern Ocean and the creatures that rely upon it.  For the majority of people travelling to Antarctica or the sub-Antarctic, the spectacle of albatrosses and petrels signals the approach of a whole new world.  Even seasoned travellers never fail to marvel at their grace and beauty as they glide between often-thunderous waves.  They evoke mystery, wonderment and reflection.  For field guides travelling on IAATO vessels, they also create learning opportunities for guests beyond lessons about the birds themselves.  Their presence sparks discussions about conservation, poetry, history, invasive species, climate change and more.  Many operators harness the power of citizen science to conduct seabird surveys, raise money for albatross conservation, financially support ACAP activities or carry researchers to remote field sites for censuses.

 Amanda Lynnes by Jeff Topham

Amanda Lynnes, Director, Environment & Science Coordination, IAATO, photograph by Jeff Topham

Visiting Antarctica, the sub-Antarctic or any unique wilderness is a great privilege that comes with a shared responsibility to do so softly and with minimal impact. IAATO’s extensive operational procedures are shaped by obligations and desire to protect the places we visit.  They are continually reviewed and updated, often in collaboration with external experts and governments. Mitigating the risk of introducing disease or invasive pests, the theme of this year’s inaugural World Albatross Day next month, is a priority.  IAATO members acted to support the successful eradication of mice and rats from South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)*, the world’s biggest project to remove invasive species to date, but work to keep the islands safe is ongoing. Preventing the introduction of pests from vessels or visitors requires following robust protocols that are a rite of passage for anyone travelling to Antarctica or the sub-Antarctic.  We remain alert and responsive to what else we can do to reduce the risk further.

IAATO kit cleaning

Cleaning kit aboard an IAATO tourist vessel, photograph courtesy of Kim Crosbie, IAATO

IAATO therefore embraces the arrival of World Albatross Day in 2020.  This is the year which also marks 200 hundred years of Antarctic discovery meaning that for over two centuries, albatrosses have accompanied mariners as they voyaged across the Southern Ocean.  This is a relationship we must never lose. IAATO upholds World Albatross Day as inspiration to foster global collaboration to save these iconic birds.

Amanda Lynnes, Director, Environment & Science Coordination, International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, 25 May 2020, updated 26 May 2020

*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.

The Pacific Seabird Group joins two other seabird groups in supporting World Albatross Day 2020

Pacific Seabird Group

The Pacific Seabird Group (PSG) is a society of professional seabird researchers and managers dedicated to the study and conservation of Pacific seabirds and their environment.  The PSG was formed in 1972 out of a need for increased communication among academic and government seabird professionals.  The principal goals of the PSG are (1) to increase the quality and quantity of seabird research through facilitating exchange of information; and (2) to identify and assess the importance of threats to seabird populations and provide government agencies and others with expert advice on managing their threats and populations.  Since 2007, the PSGs Craig S. Harrison Conservation Fund Grants Program has supported research and conservation of seabirds including encouraging at-sea monitoring of Critically Endangered Waved Albatrosses Phoebastria irrorata by small-scale fishers, educational materials for fisheries and their communities in Peru, and Black-browed Albatross diet and fisheries interactions in Chile (click here).

PSG members include biologists, wildlife managers, post-docs, students and conservation biologists from 21 countries, including Canada, Japan, Mexico and the USA and from ACAP Parties Australia, Chile, Ecuador, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa and the United Kingdom.  The total membership is currently 470.  PSG annual meetings and publications (including the peer-reviewed journal Marine Ornithology) provide forums where members can share their findings on all research topics related to Pacific seabirds and discuss local and large-scale conservation issues.  The Executive Council (the current Chair is Robert Suryan) guides the organization and makes decisions regarding operations.  The council is made up of 15 members including six Officers, a Student Representative and eight Regional Representatives.

The Executive Council has written to ACAP Latest  News stating “The Pacific Seabird Group lends its support to World Albatross Day, as a day to find joy in these incredible birds, solidify future efforts for their conservation and celebrate global and local initiatives that continue to have an impact on the resilience of these species.”  This welcome support means the Pacific Seabird Group joins the original (United Kingdom) Seabird Group, the Australasian Seabird Group and the Durch Seabird Group in recognizing the value of celebrating a World Albatross Day every year.

The PSG has also asked its members to reflect on their motivations for studying albatrosses, their conservation and thoughts on what World Albatross Day means to them. The several replies received follow.

“No matter how long you have been studying albatrosses, or through which lens you study them, they are a true wonder of nature and remain immensely fascinating.  Being part of a global effort to study and protect these gentle giants threatened with extinction means hard work but feels more like giving back.” - Jean-Baptiste Thiebot, National Institute of Polar Research, Japan.

Jean-Baptiste Thiebot on Torishima, Japan


Jean-Baptiste Thiebot uses a metal detector to scan for ingested fishing hooks onn Torishima

“When we think of the iconic migrations of the world, we often think of East Africa and the migrations of the Serengeti: a landscape of 30 000 km².  But an albatross harnesses the wind to cover a seascape of 500 000 km² in a single year or to circumnavigate Earth’s southern pole.    An albatross is the stuff of myth and legend and poetry, but real. How could one not celebrate and protect such a bird?” - Autumn-Lynn Harrison, Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, USA.

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Autumn-Lynn Harrison with a Long-tailed Jaeger in Denali National Park, Alaska

“My motivation for studying albatrosses is to understand their ability to travel so far with such little effort and cost.  They make flight look so graceful.” - Scott Shaffer, Biological Sciences, San Jose State University, USA.

 Shaffer Midway2006 photo1

Scott Shaffer with a Black-footed Albatross fledgling, Midway Atoll

“What could be more fascinating than a bird that lives as long or longer than you and I, that sails across tempestuous ocean basins on giant specialized wings, and that courts his or her lifelong mate with a ritual dance every breeding season?  Albatrosses are a gift of beauty and intrigue to our collection of biodiversity on this planet and it would be a great tragedy to lose them.  On World Albatross Day we get to come together to recognize and celebrate these magnificent animals.” - Melinda Conners, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, USA

Conners TernIsland 

Melinda Connors, Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

“When I look into the eyes of an albatross I always wonder what it has experienced during its life-time: what fishing vessels it has encountered, how many chicks it has raised, what storms it has weathered, and how many miles has it flown.  I am looking forward to celebrating World Albatross Day and building efforts to ensure that the next generations of albatrosses continue to explore the oceans.” - Rachael Orben, Oregon State University, USA

Rachael Orben BirdIsland BBALnestbalancechick shrunk 

Rachael Orben returns a Black-browed Albatross chick to its nest weigh balance, Bird Island, South Atlantic

“Humans have a long history of altering landscapes, but fewer examples of restoration and repatriation.  Albatrosses are emblematic of anthropogenic pressures on land and at sea.  Humans owe these resilient yet vulnerable seabirds our stewardship towards the restoration and maintenance of stable albatross populations.  How can we work together to prevent the extinction of remote, wide-ranging, yet vulnerable species?  World Albatross Day connects admirers of albatrosses globally to aid in the mutual goal of protecting these fascinating seabirds.” - Corey Clatterbuck, San Diego State University, USA


Corey Clatterbuck, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

“A decade ago, I started my journey along with the albatrosses in Chile.  I had the opportunity to learn more about these mysterious animals when I arrived on the Diego Ramírez Islands, south of Cape Horn.  In this world of salt and feathers, I learned more about albatrosses, and in particular of their alarming interaction with fisheries when I started to find debris and hooks carried by adults returning to the nest.  It made me realize that looking after albatrosses at the colony was only one part of the story – that we had to do something about the threats they were facing in the marine realm as a whole.  Since that time, I have been able to combine my colony and at-sea experience trialling mitigation measures to improve the prospects of albatrosses.  I will celebrate the first World Albatross Day in 2020 since my country has a huge global responsibility to not only understand but also solve the threats that these natural treasures are facing beyond the waves.” – Cristián G. Suazo, JLU-Giessen & Albatross Task Force - Chile, BirdLife International – CODEFF


Cristián Suazo, with Grey-headed Albatrosses on the Diego Ramírez Islands, Chile

“The grace by which an albatross navigates a storm at sea has always amazed me.  To understand more fully their remarkable travels across the oceans and unique life-histories is even more inspirational.  Albatrosses are amazingly resilient, but only to a point, which many have reached and need our collective help.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have participated in a few of these efforts.  I look forward to celebrating World Albatross Day to raise awareness of these amazing birds, their remote island and ocean homes, and the many people and organizations that are devoted to protecting them” Robert Suryan, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center, USA and Chair, Pacific Seabird Group

  Robert Suryan Torishima STAL translocation

Robert Suryan, Torishima, Japan. Transporting Short-tailed Albatross chicks to re-establish a colony on Mukojima, Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands

Rachael Orben, Regional Representative, Pacific Seabird Group & Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, USA & John Cooper, Honorary Member & 2012 Lifetime Achievement Awardee, Pacific Seabird Group & ACAP Information Officer, 24 May 2020

Wandering Albatrosses on Australia’s Macquarie Island are having a better breeding season

A Wandering Albatross on Macquarie Island, photograph by Kate Lawrence

Australia’s sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island supports a small population of globally Vulnerable Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans.  In the 2018/19 breeding season only three pairs laid eggs but the current 2019/230 season has seen an increase, with 10 eggs present in January (click here).

The island now reports that following a survey this month there are six chicks present.

“Wildlife Ranger Sara Larcombe, who has just returned from a monitoring trip to the main colony which is about a 40-km walk from the main station on Macquarie Island, found six of the 10 Wandering albatross pairs had successfully hatched a chick.  Two sets of parents … were first-time breeders.  One of this year’s nests, on the northern west coast of the island, is in a location that hasn’t been used for breeding since 1967.”

Trail cameras have been placed at nests to monitor chick health and feeding visits by parents.

“The Wanderers choose nest sites that are exposed to the strong westerly winds which are typical of Macquarie Island.  This means that monitoring involves walking the length of the island and working out of a remote field hut on the southern coast, a trip Ms Larcombe will make once a month until the chicks are fully grown and able to leave the island in December.”

Read more here.

With thanks to Keith Springer.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 23 May 2020

World Albatross Day gets a music video of Gough Island's albatrosses

Michelle Risi and Christopher Jones are spending their third full year as field researchers on the UK’s Gough Island in the South Atlantic.  There they continue to work for the Gough Island Restoration Programme managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).  Much of their fieldwork concentrates on the long-term monitoring* of three threatened species of ACAP-listed albatrosses that are at risk to attacks by introduced House Mice Mus musculus.  These species are the  Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena, Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos and the Endangered Sooty Albatross Phoebetria fusca.

In the first half of 2019 Michelle suggested to ACAP’s Information Officer that a World Albatross Day should be instituted to increase awareness of the conservation plight that the world’s 22 species of albatrosses face.  ACAP took up this challenge, and the first World Albatross Day will be marked globally next month on 19 June. Tristan.10

 Michelle Risi, Chris Jones and fellow team member Alexis Osborne (centre) with their World Albatross Day banner on Gough Island next to a Tristan Albatross chick

Michelle Risi has contributed further to ACAP’s ongoing efforts to raise awareness of ‘WAD2020’ by designing a series of free downloadable posters from her own photographs of albatrosses taken on Gough and on South Africa’s Marion Island – where she has also spent time conducting field work.  Along with long-term field team partner, Chris Jones, she has now produced this video for ACAP, for which the Agreement is most grateful.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 22 May 2020

*Established by ACAP’s Information Officer in his field-work days around 25 years ago.

So good they’ve gone: rabbits were not good for Macquarie Island’s albatrosses

Greyhead Macca Melanie Wells

Grey-headed Albatross on Macquarie Island, photograph by Melanie Wells

Jaimie Cleeland (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Battery Point, Tasmania, Australia) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Scientific Reports on influence of introduced European Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus (now eradicated) and extreme weather patterns on the breeding albatrosses of Australia’s sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Invasive species present a major conservation threat globally and nowhere are their affects more pronounced than in island ecosystems.  Determining how native island populations respond demographically to invasive species can provide information to mitigate the negative effects of invasive species.  Using 20 years of mark-recapture data from three sympatric species of albatrosses (black-browed Thalassarche melanophris, grey-headed T. chrysostoma, and light-mantled albatrosses Phoebetria palpebrata), we quantified the influence of invasive European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus and extreme weather patterns on breeding probability and success.  Temporal variability in rabbit density explained 33–76% of the variability in breeding probability for all three species, with severe decreases in breeding probability observed after a lag period following highest rabbit numbers.  For black-browed albatrosses, the combination of extreme rainfall and high rabbit density explained 33% of total trait variability and dramatically reduced breeding success.  We showed that invasive rabbits and extreme weather events reduce reproductive output in albatrosses and that eliminating rabbits had a positive effect on albatross reproduction.  This illustrates how active animal management at a local breeding site can result in positive population outcomes even for wide ranging animals like albatrosses where influencing vital rates during their at-sea migrations is more challenging.”

Read a popular account of the publication here.


Cleeland, J.B., Pardo, D., Raymond, B., Terauds, S., Alderman, R., McMahon, C.R., Phillips, R.A., Lea, M.-A. & Mark A. Hindell, M.A. 2020.  Introduced species and extreme weather as key drivers of reproductive output in three sympatric albatrosses.  Scientific Reports: 10: 8199.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 21 May 2020Z

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