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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Streaked Shearwaters thought affected by the Fukushima nuclear accident

Sayaka Uematsu (School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Cairns Queensland  Australia) and colleagues look at physiological responses of Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas chicks to potential radionuclide exposure following the Fukushima nuclear accident in the journal Ecological Indicators.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 released significant amounts of radionuclides into the marine environment.  Exposure to radiation reduces levels of antioxidants such as carotenoids and vitamins A and E within exposed individuals.  Such reductions can cause teratogenic or mutagenetic effects leading to reduced reproductive viability and fitness.  Reduced antioxidant levels therefore may be used as an indicator of radionuclide contamination and to infer individual or population level impacts; however, the taxa-specific responses of marine organisms, such as seabirds, are poorly understood.  As top predators, seabirds are ideal bio-indicators of the prevalence of contaminants and pollutants in marine ecosystems.  At-sea foraging distributions of Streaked Shearwaters (Calonectris leucomelas) from Mikura Island (MKR), Japan during the post egg-laying period coincide with the Fukushima nuclear plume while the breeding colony on Birou Island (BRU) lies outside the affected zone.  We examined the physiological responses of Streaked Shearwater chicks at MKR and BRU to possible radiation exposure during the 2011 breeding season, four to seven months after the Fukushima nuclear accident.  Fledging mass did not differ between islands but fledglings from MKR displayed significantly reduced vitamin A levels.  Available information suggests these depletions most likely result from radiation exposure due to the Fukushima nuclear accident, implying that the risk of radionuclide contamination is considerably elevated for Streaked Shearwaters on MKR, where more than 60% of the world's population breeds.  While additional negative impacts are expected due to delayed effects of radionuclide transport via biomagnification in the food chain, this study highlights the potential immediate and worrisome consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident for marine wildlife.”


Uematsu, S., Uematsu, K. J. Lavers, J.L. & Congdon, B.C. 2014.  Reduced vitamin A (retinol) levels indicate radionuclide exposure in Streaked Shearwaters (Calonectris leucomelas) following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.  Ecological Indicators 43: 244-251.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 29 May 2014

Getting around in the southern Indian Ocean: Critically Endangered Amsterdam Albatrosses visit Australian, Namibian and South African EEZ waters

Jean-Baptiste Thiebot (Centre d’Études Biologiques de Chizé, Villiers-en-Bois, France) and colleagues have published in the journal Endangered Species Research on the results of at-sea tracking of Amsterdam Albatrosses Diomedea amsterdamensis.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Long-lived animals typically exhibit several stages throughout their life-cycle during which their distribution may vary substantially, which may challenge the relevance of protection measures to them.  Here we surveyed individual movements of the critically endangered Amsterdam albatross from Amsterdam Island, southern Indian Ocean, during all its life-cycle stages.  Our goal was to identify, from the areas visited by the albatrosses, which coastal states share responsibility in regulating industrial fishing in their own Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) in order to promote the preservation of this species.   Using modern, stage-relevant tracking techniques (satellite tags, GPS and GLS loggers), we surveyed 361 at-sea trips in 93 individuals over 9 years, covering incubation, brooding, chick-rearing, sabbatical, failed-breeding, juvenile and immature stages. Our data show that Amsterdam albatrosses exhibit a wide and variable foraging radius (from 326 ± 193 km during brooding to 5519 ± 766 km for immatures) and at-sea distribution across stages, putting them beyond the French EEZ of Amsterdam Island for all or part of the trips surveyed in each stage.  The albatrosses visited the EEZs of France, South Africa, Australia, Madagascar, Mauritius and Namibia.   Wider-scale distribution of the non-breeders took them to more countries' Economic Exclusive Zones: 3–4 (France, South Africa, Australia and Namibia) versus 1–3 (France, Madagascar, Mauritius) for individuals in non-breeding and breeding stages, respectively. This study stresses the relevance of obtaining synoptic information on threatened species' distribution to address conservation questions, especially regarding the breeding versus non-breeding categories of the populations."

An Amsterdam Albatross off South Africa, photograph by Trevor Hardaker


Thiebot, J.-B., Delord, K., Marteau, C. & Weimerskirch, H. 2014.  Stage-dependent distribution of the critically endangered Amsterdam albatross in relation to Economic Exclusive Zones.  Endangered Species Research 23: 263-276.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 28 April 2014

Differences in foraging between Waved Albatrosses from Galápagos and Isla del Plata

Jill Awkerman (US Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Breeze, Florida, USA) and colleagues have published in the Journal of Ornithology on contrasts between foraging by Waved Albatrosses Phoebastria irrorata from the Galápagos and from Isla de la Plata.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“To determine the proximate consequences of the limited breeding distribution of the critically endangered Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata), we present continuous breeding season GPS tracks highlighting differences in behaviour, destinations, and distances travelled between three distinct colonies: two in Galápagos and one closer to the South American continent on Isla de la Plata, where a small number of pairs nest.  Accelerometer data paired with GPS locations allowed operational classifications of Waved Albatross behaviour.  All birds from Galápagos travelled eastward to the continental shelf and foraged southward along the Peruvian coast.  Birds from Isla de la Plata made more and shorter foraging trips and used habitat north of the destinations of Galápagos birds.  La Plata birds foraged in areas through which Galápagos birds commuted, and had slower average flight speeds and shorter commutes.  Overall, albatrosses from La Plata might operate under a consistently lower return but they also incur lower costs compared to birds from Galápagos, which take fewer trips involving longer time investment.  Galápagos birds may be able to forage more effectively based on more abundant or more profitable food patches in those highly productive areas.  Foraging destinations of birds from the two Galápagos colonies were similar and overlapped areas that presented localized mortality risk from artisanal fisheries in previous years.  This study, performed across the species’ breeding range, reveals the different foraging distribution of La Plata albatrosses and the potential conservation value of this small colony in terms of maintenance of spatial diversity and behavioural plasticity.”

 Waved Albatross on Isla del Plata, photograph by Sebastian Cruz


Awkerman, J.A., Cruz, S., Proaño, C., Huyvaert, KP., Uzcátegui, G.J., Baquero, A., Wikelski, M. & Anderson, D.J. 2014.  Small range and distinct distribution in a satellite breeding colony of the critically endangered Waved Albatross.  Journal of Ornithology 155: 367-378.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 27 April 2014

A Wedge-tailed Shearwater colony on a Hawaiian island continues to do well with volunteer help

David Hyrenbach (Department of Natural Sciences, Hawai'i Pacific University, Honolulu, Hawai'i, USA) and Wendy Johnson write in 'Elepaio, newsletter of the Hawai‘i Audubon Society, on their monitoring and management efforts with Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus over five years in a colony on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Their results show the Freeman Seabird Preserve colony has increased by 25% per year since 2009 from around 75 to 200 breeding pairs:  “[t]his trend suggests that the ongoing revegetation efforts and the increasing number of available nesting sites continue to support an unprecedented growth of this Wedge-tailed Shearwater colony…”.

“From January through March 2013, while the birds were at sea, Hawai'i Audubon Society members and other volunteers worked to remove alien plant species from the preserve and to maintain wedge-tailed shearwater burrows and nesting sites.  Weekly fieldwork opportunities attracted a wide variety of participants, ranging from wildlife conservationists and scientists, to gardening enthusiasts, neighbors and young student groups.  These efforts support the work done in 2011 and 2012 by professional native plant landscapers from Hui Ku Maoli Ola, who transformed a vacant house-lot into a unique example of pre-contact Hawaiian dryland coastal habitat with multiple shearwater nesting sites.  Repeat volunteers have found it extremely satisfying to witness, and contribute to, the resurgence of native Hawaiian coastal plants at the Freeman Seabird Preserve.”

A pair of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters

Constructed shearwater burrow in the Freeman Seabird Preserve

Photograph by David Hyrenbach

Click here for an earlier ACAP Latest News item on the Freeman Seabird Preserve.


Hyrenbach, K.D. & Johnson, W. 2014.  Five years of Wedge-tailed Shearwater monitoring and habitat restoration at the Freeman Seabird Preserve: 2009 – 2013.  'Elepaio 74(2): 5-6.

See also:

Hyrenbach, K.D. 2011. Tale of two years: monitoring Wedge-tailed Shearwaters at Freeman Seabird Preserve in Black Point, O'ahu. ‘Elepaio 71(3): 17-20.

Hyrenbach, K.D. 2012. 2011: a mixed year at the Freeman Seabird Preserve. ‘Elepaio 72(2): 13-14.

Hyrenbach, K.D. & Johnson, W. 2013. 2012: record breeding shearwater count at the Freeman Seabird Preserve. ‘Elepaio 73(2): 14-15.

Young, L., VanderWerf, E.A. & Lohr, M.E. 2012. Freeman Seabird Preserve predator control. ‘Elepaio72(1): 6.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 26 April 2014

Green lights at night can help protect petrels and shearwaters in inhabited areas

Burrowing petrels typically fly to and from, and their chicks fledge from, their breeding sites at night, presumably so as to avoid predators as they pass over land to and from the sea.  In inhabited areas where outside artificial lighting at night prevails, such birds can be dazzled by, or even attracted to, artificial lights, leading to collisions with buildings and vehicles on roads, “downings”, fatal injuries and enhanced risk of capture by predators, such, as in the southern hemisphere, by skuas.

Conservation efforts at a number of breeding sites world-wide have concentrated on both collecting downed fledglings, notably of shearwaters Puffinus and Calonectris and gadfly petrels Pterodroma, for later release to sea and reducing the numbers and strength of artificial lights.

A downed Newell's Shearwater fledgling is released after rescue

Photograph by Elizabeth Ames

At one locality, the Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on the USA’s Hawaiian island of Kauai, green lights have been tried with success, leading to a reduced number of downed birds being recorded.  “The 2013 fledging season for Newell’s shearwater [Puffinus newelli] and Hawaiian Petrels [Pterodroma sandwichensis] ended … with zero injuries or casualties at the base”.

Barking Sands supports a breeding population of Laysan Albatrosses

“While none of last year’s incidents resulted in fatalities, all were attributed to high-wattage light sources, which were immediately switched, according to PMRF.  Those physical changes include the implementation of a “Dark Sky” program, which improved lighting conditions so the birds would be less distracted.  Conventional lamps were converted to LEDs, and full-cut-off fixtures prevent the light source from being seen by the birds from above.  Another technology being utilized at the base are “green lights,” a spectrum first tested [in] 2010, which seems to also work in the birds’ favour” (click here).

Green lights have also been installed on the other side of the World at South Africa’s weather and research station on sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  A strict policy of no outside lights, closing of black-out blinds at dusk and switching off unnecessary inside lights has led to the incidence of locally-known “night bird attacks” by burrowing petrels, most especially the abundant Salvin’s Prion Pachyptila salvini, being reduced over the years.

 Marion Island's weather and research station

Sky corridors from the outside

Sky corridor during the day

A sky corridor at night with its green footlights just discernable

Photographs of the corridor by Mariette Wheeler

The construction of a new base at Marion in the last decade gave the opportunity to install low-wattage green footlights to guide inhabitants in safety along glassed “sky corridors” between buildings at night.  Although experimental evidence is lacking it seems that the green lights are playing their part in reducing bird strikes and subsequent mortality of burrowing petrels when they fly close to the buildings on moonless and foggy nights.

With thanks to Mariette Wheeler for the photographs. 

Selected Literature: 

Imber, M.J. 1975.  Behaviour of petrels in relation to the moon and artificial lights.  Notornis 22: 302-306. 

Le Corre, M., Ollivier, A., Ribes, S. & Jouventin, P. 2002.  Light-induced mortality of petrels: a 4-year study from Réunion Island (Indian Ocean).  Biological Conservation 95: 93-102.

 Poot, H., Ens, B.J., de Vries, H., Donners, M.A.H., Wernand, M.R. & Marquenie, J.M. 2008.  Green light for nocturnally migrating birds.  Ecology & Society 13: 1-14.

Reed, J.R., Sincock, J.L. & Hailman, J.P. 1985.  Light attraction in endangered procellariiform birds: reduction by shielding upward radiation.  Auk 102: 377-383.

Rodríguez, A.& Rodríguez, B. 2009.  Attraction of petrels to artificial lights in the Canary Islands: effects of the moon phase and age class.  Ibis 151: 299-310.

Telfer, T.C., Sincock, J.L., Bryd, G.V. & Reed, J.R. 1987.  Attraction of Hawaiian seabirds to lights: conservation efforts and effects of moon phase.  Wildlife Society Bulletin 15: 406-413.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 25 April 2014

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