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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Alien plant control improves breeding by Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses on the USA’s North-western Hawaiian Islands

The invasive plant Golden Crownbeard Verbesina encelioides, which forms “cornstalk-high stands”, is being removed from several atolls in the USA’s Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), leading to improved breeding habitat for ACAP-listed Black-footed Phoebastria nigripes and Laysan P. immutabilis Albatrosses.  The plant is a fast-growing and prolific annual that thrives in the Hawaiian climate.

Golden Crownbeard Verbesina encelioides

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that more seabirds, including albatrosses, attempt breeding and more chicks survive among native grass species than within non-native Verbesina stands on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Wold-Heritage-listed Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (click here).  Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses bred at near-record levels in 2012/13 on Midway, although “biologists will need three or more years to know if the rise is due to Verbesina control.”

Verbesina is thought to have been introduced to Midway in the 1930s.  “By the late 1990s, when eradication efforts began, the plant covered most of Midway’s three islands, reducing seabird nesting density, reproductive success, albatross chick survival and biodiversity.  Verbesina grows rapidly each year, forming thick stands that reduce albatross nesting and limit air flow to chicks in their nests, putting them at risk of death from dehydration.”

“For the past two years, crews have hand-sprayed Verbesina almost daily with herbicides; year-round seabird nesting precludes the use of tractors or heavy equipment.  Spraying has knocked out most mature Verbesina plants on Midway’s Eastern Island.  If all goes well, emergent seedlings will be gone by early 2017 on Eastern and Spit islands and by early 2018 on bigger Sand Island.  Native grasses and other native plants are being replanted to restore seabird nesting habitat, secure coral sand and build coastal dunes to protect against waves.”

Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses breeding on Midway Atoll

To guard against re-infestation or invasion, the Refuge imposes strict quarantine procedures.  Personnel travelling to Eastern Island must pass through shoe-cleaning stations at the boat pier.  All equipment is cleaned before transport from Honolulu to Midway and before use on Eastern Island.  Travellers from Honolulu to Midway must also clean their shoes and gear before flights and voyages.  Only new clothing and thoroughly cleaned equipment are allowed at the other atolls and islands within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Verbesina eradication is being undertaken with a US$1 million National Wildlife Refuge System grant and matching funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Read an earlier item on Verbesina control in ACAP Latest News hereVerbesina control and native plantings are also underway on Kure Atoll in the NWHI in order to improve breeding habitat for albatrosses and other seabirds (click here).

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 26 May 2014

UPDATED Lasers trialled to reduce seabird mortality caused by longline fishing

News is in on trials using lasers and acoustics to deter seabirds from baited hooks in the North Atlantic.

“Norway’s Mustad Autoline, together with the Dutch company SaveWave, has developed the SeaBird Saver which uses brand new technology to create bird free zones near fishing vessels.  This new vessel-based laser device helps to keep the birds at distance from the baited lines, as they feel threatened by the laser and the sound unit.  This reduces the chance of being hooked and means that fishermen get more baited hooks in the sea.”

“The trial took place in coastal Icelandic fishing grounds around the Snæfellsnes peninsula, where bird predation in longline fisheries is high.  The trial consisted of five fishing days and five lines set and hauled in total.  Of the five lines, four were used for testing the SeaBird Saver system.  …success … achieved with Northern Fulmars [Fulmarus glacialis], gives good hope that the system should be successful on albatross species as well.”

The SeaBird Saver

The laser unit is expected to be launched in August 2014 with the sound unit being launched at a later stage (click here).

The SeaBird Saver is a vessel-based device that emits both a visual and acoustic stimulus.  “The birds feel threatened by the physical presence of the laser beam and its natural response is to avoid contact and move away.  The sounds, that are intense and intelligent, mix between predatory calls, unnatural sinus [sic] waves and distress cries, that can either scare the birds away altogether, or make them more sceptical to the laser deterrent” (click here).

The system has been designed to be mounted on a rail or other high vantage point onboard and is protected against extreme cold and frost by an internal heating system.  A hand-held system has also been developed (click here).

The SeaBird Saver is sponsored by the European Eurostars project.

With thanks to Justine Shaw for information.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 25 May 2014, updated 6 June 2014

Over 70% of Great Shearwaters in the North Atlantic carry ingested plastic in their stomachs

Jenrifer Provencher (Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada) and colleagues write in the Marine Pollution Bulletin on plastics ingested by Great Shearwaters Puffinus gravis and other seabirds in the North Atlantic.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Marine birds have been found to ingest plastic debris in many of the world’s oceans.  Plastic accumulation data from necropsies findings and regurgitation studies are presented on 13 species of marine birds in the North Atlantic, from Georgia, USA to Nunavut, Canada and east to southwest Greenland and the Norwegian Sea.  Of the species examined, the two surface plungers (great shearwaters Puffinus gravis; northern fulmars Fulmarus glacialis) had the highest prevalence of ingested plastic (71% and 51%, respectively).  Great shearwaters also had the most pieces of plastics in their stomachs, with some individuals containing as many of 36 items.  Seven species contained no evidence of plastic debris.  Reporting of baseline data as done here is needed to ensure that data are available for marine birds over time and space scales in which we see changes in historical debris patterns in marine environments (i.e. decades) and among oceanographic regions.”

Great Shearwater at sea, photograph by John Graham

With thanks to Alex Bond and Jenrifer Provencher.

Reference:

Provencher, J.F., Bond, A.L., Hedd, A., Montevecchi, W.A., Bin Muzaffar, S., Courchesne, S.J., Gilchrist, H.G., Jamieson, S.E., Merkel, F.R., Falk, K., Durinck, J. & Mallory, M.L. 2014.  Prevalence of marine debris in marine birds from the North Atlantic.  Marine Pollution Bulletin doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2014.04.044.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 24 May 2014

Yelkouan Shearwaters breeding in nest boxes in Italy and Malta will help conservation research

Researchers from the EU Life+ Malta Seabird Project run by BirdLife Malta have recorded Yelkouan Shearwaters Puffinus yelkouan using an artificial nest box placed at one of this threatened seabirds breeding colonies on Malta’s inaccessible sea-cliffs.  LIFE Montecristo 2010, another EU-funded project looking at Yelkouan Shearwaters that breed in Tuscany Archipelago of Italy has also had a similar success trialling nest boxes.  Together, these are the first examples of Yelkouan Shearwaters using nest boxes.

“Normally Yelkouans nest deep in the dark, narrow crevices and caves in the sea-facing cliffs around the islands, which makes their behaviour on their nest very difficult to observe.  If more of these seabirds prove willing to take to nest boxes, it should make it possible for researchers to gain insights into previously unobserved aspects of their breeding ecology.”

Yelkouan Shearwater, photograph by Matthew Borg Cardona

Click here to read more.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 23 May 2014

UPDATED Mystery chick found on Nakodojima: a sixth breeding locality for the Short-tailed Albatross?

The Vulnerable Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus breeds mainly on the Japanese island of Torishima (Izu Islands) and on Minami-kojima in the disputed Senkaku Islands.  A single STAL pair has bred successfully several times on Eastern Island, part of the USA’s Midway Atoll, and a faithful female-female pair on the USA’s Kure Atoll continues to lay infertile eggs and await a passing male.  In addition 70 chicks translocated over four years (2007-2011) from Torishima have nearly all successfully fledged from Mukojima in the Japanese Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands with the aim to establish a new colony.  At least two eggs have been laid at the translocation site but did not hatch (click here)

Now to add to these five localities comes news of a likely new breeding site for the Short-tailed Albatross.

On 7 May this year researchers from the Ogasawara Branch of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government visiting uninhabited Nakodojima five kilometres south of Mukojima discovered what appeared to be a Short-tailed Albatross chick close to fledging.  The bird was colour banded and a feather sample taken for DNA analysis to aid in its positive identification (click here).

No parents were present at the time but a metal-banded STAL in adult plumage was observed in January with a younger bird being seen previously on the island.  On 11 May 2012 a colour-banded four-year old was reported on Nakodojima.  The parents of the newly-discovered chick may come from these three birds.

Nakodojima supports breeding Black-footed Albatrosses P. nigripes (967 pairs in 2006 according to the ACAP Data Portal).  In 2007 10 Black-footed Albatross chicks were successfully transferred from Nakodojima to Mukojima, preliminary to the STAL translocation from Torishima that commenced the next year.  Nine of the 10 Black-foot chicks fledged and some have seen back courting at the translocation site (click here).

The Ogasawara Islands were designated as a World Heritage natural site in 2011, with Nakodojima Island being treated as the most restricted area.

 Feral goats have been removed but Black Rats Rattus rattus remain on Nakodojima.

Translocated Short-tailed Albatrosses on Mukojima, photograph by Tomohiro Deguchi

With thanks to Tomohiro Deguchi, Yamashina Institute for Ornithology for information.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 22 May 2014, updated 26 May 2014

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