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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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

Wandering Albatrosses to keep a daily diary: South African marine ornithologists sail south for Marion Island today with loggers in their luggage

Once more it is time for the annual relief of the meteorological station at Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean.  South Africa’s new Antarctic supply and research ship, the S.A. Agulhas II, will depart from Cape Town harbour at 14h00 today and is expected to arrive off the island on 6 April – when offloading by helicopter will commence.

The meteorological/research station on Marion Island above Transvaal Cove, with Junior's Kop and the central snow-covered peaks behind

Photograph courtesy of Marion Island Killer Whales

Among the scientific teams aboard is an experienced one from the University of Cape Town’s FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, led by its newly-appointed Director, Peter Ryan.  Accompanying him is Maëlle Connan, who has already spent a year conducting seabird research on the island.

During the three-week relief period ashore “daily diary” loggers will be attached to up to five breeding Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans to study their nocturnal feeding behaviour.  The loggers (which can record “14 parameters at infra-second frequencies”) will be attached with Tesa tape to the birds’ tail feathers early in the relief, with the aim of recovering them before the end of the relief as they return to feed their downy chicks after single foraging trips.

 Wandering Albatross and chick at Marion Island, photograph by John Cooper

Two field assistants completing the “Fitztitute’s” team, Alexis Osbourne and Vonica Perrold, will remain on the island for a full year, undertaking continued monitoring of long-term study colonies of the four species of albatrosses and the Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli – where all the breeding birds are colour-banded.

As in recent years ACAP’s Information Officer is accompanying the annual relief, so expect some stories on ACAP-listed species from the field over the rest of the month.  The relief expedition is due to return to Cape Town on 8 May.

With thanks to Peter Ryan for information.

Selected Literature:

Wilson, R.P., Shepard, E.L.C. & Liebsch, N. 2008.  Prying into the intimate details of animal lives: use of a daily diary on animals.  Endangered Species Research 4: 123-137.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 02 April 2014

Foraging and nest quality in Cory's Shearwater

Antje Chiu Werner (Departamento de Ornitología, Museo de Historia Natural “Javier Prado,” Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Peru) and colleagues have published in the ornithological journal Auk on differences in the at-sea foraging behaviour of male and female Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis in relation to nest quality.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“An extended reproductive period and high variability in food resource availability at sea make good quality nest sites particularly important for the survival of pelagic seabird chicks.  Despite high philopatry during the early pre-laying period, males compete strongly for nests, making this period a unique opportunity to independently assess the influence of nest-site characteristics and individual quality on the foraging behavior of Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis) individuals.  We found significant differences in the at-sea foraging behavior of males and females at temporal (trip duration) and spatial (foraging areas, trip distance, and trip sinuosity) scales, both of which are greater in females.  Furthermore, we suggest that nests of higher quality are deeper and closer to the nest of a conspecific neighbor because both variables were associated with males foraging closer to the colony.  Finally, we showed that during the early pre-laying period the influence exerted by nests on males' behavior at sea is independent from the individual's quality.  Our study links nest-site features with the at-sea behavior of pelagic male seabirds during a period of nest competition and suggests that nest-site characteristics are important to explain foraging patterns of central-place foraging birds.”

 A pair of Corys's Shearwaters, photograph by Paulo Catry


Chiu Werner, A., Paiva, V.H. & Ramos, J.A. 2014.  On the “real estate market”: individual quality and the foraging ecology of male Cory's Shearwaters.  Auk 131:  265-274.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 02 May 2014

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