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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Friends of Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge is excited to celebrate the inaugural World Albatross Day!

FOHINWR

Friends of Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge (FoHI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting you with the nature and culture of the USA's Northwestern Hawaiian Islands through education and outreach.  We represent the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge (HINWR) part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (which also includes Kure and Midway Atolls).  FoHI is a non-profit partner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, supporting their projects through fundraising and advocacy.

The HINWR encompasses Nihoa Island through to Pearl and Hermes Atoll.  Land and seascapes include sheer rocky cliffs emerging from the sea, sandy islands and atolls, and broad shallow reefs with no emergent land.  The HINWR was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 to provide legal protection for the seabirds living on these remote islands and atolls that were once slaughtered for their plumage and eggs.  Currently, the eight islands and atolls within the Refuge support predator-free nesting grounds for Laysan (Mōlī) and Black-footed (Ka'upu) Albatrosses.

Albatrosses are not only ecologically significant to the atolls by depositing guano essential for native vegetation to thrive, but they are also culturally significant.  Albatrosses return to land in November during the Makahiki season, which celebrates hard work in producing food during the previous months.  This celebration is dedicated to the Hawaiian god Lono, whose earthly manifestation is believed to be an albatross.  Further, the Hawaiian name for Laysan Albatross, Mōlī, refers to tattooing implements made from their bones.

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument supports the majority of the world’s Mōlī and Ka'upu populations.  Whereas islands in HINWR are predator (and most of the time, human) free, threats to albatrosses in the refuge include invasive plant species and climate-change induced habitat loss.  FoHI supports quarantine protocols to prevent invasive species introductions to these fragile islands, and translocation projects by Pacific Rim Conservation, including relocating albatross and petrel chicks from the Refuge to predator-proof areas on high islands in the main Hawaiian Islands.

Nicole Galase

Nicole Galase tries to blend into the albatross colony on Midway Atoll

Several of the FoHI Board members have been fortunate to spend time living among the albatrosses in the HINWR.  FoHI Chair Nicole Galase: “Albatross are great reminders that everything is interconnected.  Seabirds are important for many reasons, one of which is the great job they do to cycle nutrients from the ocean to the land.”

Ilana Nimz

Ilana Nimz in a therapy session with a Laysan Albatross on Kure Atoll

FoHI Vice Chair Ilana Nimz: “My friend once stated ‘albatrosses are the most bird,’ which I feel is such a humorous, sincere, and perfect description of these animals.  Albatrosses have evolved to withstand extremes, and I am optimistic about their persistence into an uncertain future.  Getting people to care about them is step one, and I appreciate that World Albatross Day will spotlight their magnificence on a global stage.”

Ilana Nimz, Vice Chair, Friends of Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, 29 March 2020

UPDATED. Expedition to satellite track Antipodean Albatrosses from Antipodes Island is underway

Antipodean Albatross Colin ODonnell Diana L Andersen 

Antipodean Albatross by Diana L. Andersen from a photograph (see below) by Colin O'Donnell

UPDATE:  The research team will be leaving the island early, due to issues related to the COVID-19 virus.  However, it is reported that trackers have been fitted to 11 Antipodean Albatrosses.

New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) scientists Graeme Elliott and Kath Walker are visiting Antipodes Island for the next six weeks to attach GPS satellite transmitters to the nominate subspecies (endemic to the island) of the globally Endangered and Nationally Critical Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis.  The transmitters will track the birds at sea to ascertain where they go and where they may encounter fishing vessels.

“The [nominate] Antipodean Albatross population has declined by two thirds over the last fifteen years from around 16 000 breeding birds to 6000.  The major threat to these birds is being accidentally caught by longline fishing vessels, mainly on the high seas, outside New Zealand waters.  The female population is being affected more severely than the males.  Oceanic changes are thought to have driven the females to forage [farther] north and east of New Zealand, pushing them into waters where they are at greater risk from international longline fishing fleets.”

Live Ocean, a marine conservation charity partnered with the Southern Seabirds Solutions Trust, has raised NZ$70 000 to help pay for the satellite trackers, increasing the number of transmitters that Fisheries New Zealand and DOC have provided.

“Satellite trackers on albatrosses can pinpoint the exact location (within a few metres) of the bird in near real-time.  The birds can be monitored via the albatross tracker app which was developed by DOC and FNZ.  Their flight paths can be overlaid with the activity of individual fishing vessels to identify those posing most risk of bycatch”.

The Antipodean Albatross is listed on Appendices I and II of the Convention for Migratory Species.  The Antipodes Island nominate population has been recognised since 2017 as a population of conservation concern by ACAP.

Read more about the expedition here.

Antipodean Albatross 3 Adams Island Colin ODonnell

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 23 March 2020

Tracking seabirds (and seals) to define Areas of Ecological Significance in the Southern Ocean

Hindell Nature

Areas of Ecological Significance identified include around sub-Antarctic islands where most ACAP-listed species breed

Mark Hindell (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia) and many colleagues have published in the journal Nature on tracking marine predators to protect Southern Ocean ecosystems.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Southern Ocean ecosystems are under pressure from resource exploitation and climate change.  Mitigation requires the identification and protection of Areas of Ecological Significance (AESs), which have so far not been determined at the ocean-basin scale.  Here, using assemblage-level tracking of marine predators, we identify AESs for this globally important region and assess current threats and protection levels.  Integration of more than 4,000 tracks from 17 bird and mammal species reveals AESs around sub-Antarctic islands in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and over the Antarctic continental shelf.  Fishing pressure is disproportionately concentrated inside AESs, and climate change over the next century is predicted to impose pressure on these areas, particularly around the Antarctic continent.  At present, 7.1% of the ocean south of 40°S is under formal protection, including 29% of the total AESs.  The establishment and regular revision of networks of protection that encompass AESs are needed to provide long-term mitigation of growing pressures on Southern Ocean ecosystems.”

Read popular accounts of the publication here and here.

Reference:

Hindell, M.A., Reisinger, R.R., Ropert-Coudert, Y. et al. 2020.  Tracking of marine predators to protect Southern Ocean ecosystems. Nature  doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2126-y.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 28 March 2020

Midway Atoll postpones its mouse eradication effort due to COVID-19

Laysan Midway mouse kills 

Results of mouse attacks on Laysan Albatrosses on Midway Atoll

The postponement of this year’s attempt to eradicate House Mice on Gough Island due to travel restrictions in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic was recently reported in ACAP Latest News (click here).  Now comes the news that a similar operation also set to take place on Midway Atoll this year has been postponed – for much the same reason, but  additionally due to concerns over ‘social distancing’.

The statement from the Pacific Region of the US Fish and Wildlife Service follows in full:

“Due to the rapidly evolving outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19), increasing travel restrictions, and following new guidance from the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for reduced travel and social distancing, it has become necessary to postpone the implementation of the Seabird Protection Project.  Right now we are working hard to ensure that the planning and preparation of the past three years is not lost, and we are coming up with a path forward to ensure that we are in the best possible place to complete this project in the future.

Although this was a difficult call to make, the safety and health of our staff and volunteers [have] to be paramount.  We are closely monitoring the situation, keeping staff informed, and taking action as needed by following the most current guidance from the CDC, OPM, OEM and other health authorities.

In addition to the health concerns, the increasingly uncertain nature of travel restrictions occurring during some of the key early implementation stages of the project made it clear that moving forward now was simply not feasible.

Midway Atoll is one of the most important seabird colonies in the world, and we remain committed to ensuring that the birds who rely on Midway have a safe and rodent-free future. When we move forward with this project we have to do it the right way, and with the best possible chance at success.

We are incredibly grateful for the work that has been done already and remain more committed than ever to protecting Midway’s seabirds. Follow us here for continued updates as we move forward.”

The Gough and Midway eradication projects planned to take place this year – but now both postponed at least until 2021 – were together a large reason why this year’s inaugural World Albatross Day adopted the theme ‘Eradicating Island Pests’.  Some irony here, but ACAP Latest News expects the two eradication efforts will eventually take place - and will continue to report on them as new information comes to hand.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 27 March 2020

Internationally renowned FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology lends its support to World Albatross Day

Attendees at the Fitztitute 2020 AGM with a World Albatross Day banner, held by ACAP's Information Officer and Andrea Angel

The FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology (known as the ‘Fitztitute’), located within the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, is widely regarded as one of the world’s premier bodies for avian research.  Established in 1959, the Institute was identified as a Centre of Excellence (CoE) by the South African Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation in 2004.  It houses the Niven Library, surely Africa's most comprehensive ornithology collection of books, journals and papers.

Peter Ryan, the Fitztitute’s current (and fifth) Director, is the only A-rated ornithologist in the country.  His wide-ranging research interests have centred on seabirds and islands.  ACAP Latest News approached Peter with the request the Institute lends its support for this year’s inaugural World Albatross Day – which was readily granted.  Earlier this month, the Fitztitute held its Annual General Meeting, when postgraduate students give talks to the Institute’s Board and interested university staff and students.  A group photo is a traditional part of the AGM.  Fitztitute graduate Andrea Angel, who is Leader of BirdLife International’s Albatross Task Force in South Africa, brought along a World Albatross Day banner to photograph with the AGM attendees and with albatross researchers currently based at the Fitztitute.

In addition to the photo opportunity, statements of support for ‘WAD2020’ have come from past and present Fitztitute personnel who have worked with albatrosses as set out below:

“It's always a stirring sight to see an albatross, whether soaring over the open ocean, or displaying at their breeding islands.  I hope that World Albatross Day will bring them to the attention of the many people who are unable to see them in the wild”. - Peter Ryan, Director, FitzPatrick Institute.

“Albatrosses are the most threatened group of seabirds.  The biggest threats to their survival are incidental bycatch in fisheries, climate change and invasive alien species at their breeding colonies.  World Albatross Day is a fantastic way to shine a spotlight on these majestic birds and to make people aware of how we can conserve them.” - Kim Stevens, Ph.D.student, FitzPatrick Institute (The foraging ecology and breeding success of Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma).

“My passion for albatrosses stems from my life-changing experience of spending a year on Gough Island in 2003/04.  There I was awe struck by their beauty, their immense size and grace in the air.  As the stillness, that only remote places have, is broken by the whoosh of the wind through a Tristan Albatross’s flight feathers one can only be humbled.  I count myself as immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to come close to albatrosses and to dedicating the past 15 years of my career to safeguarding them.” - Andrea Angel, Albatross Task Force, BirdLife South Africa.

“I found it fascinating getting to know individual albatrosses while doing colony checks of incubators at their breeding colonies – it may sound a bit odd, but just like pets in our homes, albatrosses have their quirks – some would nibble your glove, some would unfold their leg to helpfully reveal their band, while others were  always snappy!  They’re so elegant and really are remarkable birds”. - Ben Dilley, Postdoctoral Fellow, FitzPatrick Institute.

From left: Ben Dilley, ACAP's Information Officer, Peter Ryan, Andrea Angel and Kim Stevens with the Albatross Task Force's WAD2020 banner

With thanks to Andrea Angel, Albatross Task Force and Ben Dilley, Peter Ryan & Kim Stevens, FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer (and Fitztitute staff member 1973-1994), 26 March 2020

Note:  this meeting and photo opportunity took place shortly before COVID-19 reached the Western Cape, and thus before social distancing became part of the 'new normal'.

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