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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Kerguelen’s alien herbivorous mammals are on the way out: good news for burrowing petrels

ACAP Latest News has received an update of French activities to rid its sub-Antarctic island of Kerguelen of introduced mammals from Fabrice Le Bouard of Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (TAAF).   These activities, which follow earlier efforts to eradicate European Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus, are expected to contribute to a recovery of the island group’s natural vegetation - which should help the its burrowing seabirds, including the ACAP-listed White-chinned Procellaria aequinoctialis and Grey P. cinerea Petrels.

Domestic Sheep Ovis aries

“There are still sheep on Ile Longue.  The last count in March [2014] is about 150 males left.  There are no females and so no reproduction.  We'll maybe try to shoot some of them next summer or winter to accelerate their natural death.”  Domestic Sheep were first introduced to Kerguelen in 1909.

Shaggy sheep face the camera on Ile Longue, photograph by Thomas Biteau

Mouflon Ovis orientalis musimon

Following a shooting campaign on Ile Haute in the Golfe du Morbihan a single male Mouflon remains since winter 2012 when four of the five last animals were removed.  “We'll maybe try to shoot the last one next summer or winter if it's still alive.”  Mouflon (from which domestic sheep have descended) were first introduced to Kerguelen in 1957.

A Mouflon on Ile Haute, Kerguelen, photograph by Thomas  Biteau

Reindeer Rangifer tarandus

The programme RENKER (Reindeer on Kerguelen Islands: distribution, dynamics and impacts on ecosystems) is operated by the Institut polaire Paul Emil Victor (IPEV) in collaboration with the National Nature Reserve and TAAF.  The project aims to estimate the size of the Reindeer population, originally introduced in 1956, as well as its distribution on the mainland.

Reindeer on the Courbet Peninsula, photograph by Fabrice le Bouard

“Our project aims to assess ecosystem effects of reindeer on Kerguelen in order to evaluate different management policies.  We will 1) estimate the distribution and habitat use of reindeer on Ile Kerguelen using a combination of faeces counts and helicopter transects, 2) collect simple demographic indices such as calves/females ratio and age of carcasses to compare this predator-free population to e.g. South Georgia, 3) assess if these indices can be validated using marked individuals, 4) estimate plant composition and biomass and relate it to reindeer habitat use and presence of other herbivores using an approach developed in subarctic-alpine ecosystems, 5) establish exclosures in different habitats to assess short-term responses of vegetation to reindeer grazing.”

The next summer will be the last field season.  Fabrice reports to ACAP that depending on the results of the study a decision will be made whether or not to proceed to a Reindeer eradication exercise when the island’s current (2011-2015) management plan is revised.

Click here for an earlier ACAP Latest News report of France’s ongoing efforts to rid its sub-Antarctic islands of introduced mammals.

With thanks to Fabrice Le Bouard (Technicien de recherche des inventaires et suivis ornithologiques et mammalogiques de la réserve naturelle des Terres australes Françaises) for information and photographs.

Selected Literature:

Chapuis, J.-L., Boussès, P. & Barnaud, G. 1994.  Alien mammals, impact and management in the French subantarctic islands.  Biological Conservation 64: 97-104.

Headland, R.K. 2012.  History of exotic terrestrial mammals in Antarctic regions.  Polar Record 48: 123-144.

Kaeuffer, R., Bonenfant, C., Chapuis, J.-L. & Devillard, S. 2010.  Dynamics of an introduced population of Mouflon Ovis aries on the sub-Antarctic archipelago of Kerguelen.  Ecography 33: 435-442.

TAAF 2010.  Plan de gestion 2011 - 2015 Réserve naturelle des Terres australes françaises.  Saint Pierre, La Réunion: Terres australes et antarctiques françaises.  35 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 16 May 2014

First record of an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross in Suriname waters

Marijke de Boer (Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies, Den Burg, Texel, The Netherlands) and colleagues have published in the e-journal Academic Journal of Suriname on pelagic seabirds observed in Suriname waters off the north-eastern Atlantic coast of South America, including the ACAP-listed Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The pelagic seabird fauna inhabiting the waters offshore Suriname has hardly been described.  Here we provide records for the occurrence of 18 pelagic seabird species.  At least three of the observed seabird species represent new state records: Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma castro and Red-footed Booby Sula sula.  Another previously undocumented seabird in Suriname observed during this survey was Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, although this species was not verified by photographic evidence.  An additional four seabird species represent the first verified at-sea photographic records for Suriname: Audubon’s Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri, Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus, Masked Booby Sula dactylatra and Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus.  The seabird temporal distribution and foraging concentrations of seabirds are presented for the period 20 May – 24 July 2012.  Strip-transect seabird counts 13 June to 24 July 2012 revealed that the offshore seabird community in Suriname is best described as primarily a surface-feeding community, dominated by plunge-diving shearwaters.  The overall seabird abundance was low 0.59 birds/km which is consistent for tropical equatorial offshore waters.  The results highlight an increase both in the relative abundance and diversity of seabirds and the mortality amongst shearwaters in late June/early July.  We recommend that more monitoring be carried out in order to gain a better understanding of the status of the different seabird species that occur in this tropical equatorial offshore region.”

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses on stamps from Tristan da Cunha


de Boer, M. Williams, A. & Saulino, J. 2014.  Observations of pelagic seabirds in the waters offshore Suriname.  Academic Journal of Suriname 5: 474-491.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 15 May 2014

A colour-banded Black-browed Albatross gets photographed at sea off Namibia

On 7 May 2014 Kolette Grobler of the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources observed a Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris on the sea surface next to her research vessel the !Anichab (= “place of many birds”) about 30 nautical miles west of Lüderitz in southern Namibia at 26° 38’S while on a routine environmental sampling cruise.  The bird was banded with a metal band on the right leg and a red plastic band with the number 626 engraved in white on its left.


Red 626 showing its plastic and metal bands though the clear and calm water

Photographs by Kolette Grobler

An enquiry to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reveals that the bird was banded at Bird Island, South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)*.  Andy Wood of BAS reports to ACAP:

“We do in fact have a Red 626 in the Black-brow database carrying metal ring number 1425876.  It is unsexed, and was ringed as an adult - we use the convention of unknown aged birds having metal rings on the right leg, so that fits with the observation.  Red 626 has been a breeding bird at Bird Island since it was ringed in 2007/08, returning every season to breed with the same partner Red 141.  They have successfully raised chicks in 2007/08, 2008/09, 2010/11 and 2012/13.  The breeding history of Red 626 will undoubtedly extend earlier than 2007/08, but it uses a study colony newly started at that time.  Red 626 and Red 141 bred again this season at Bird Island, but their nest failed in mid-January.  From our tracking studies, many Black-brows finishing breeding at Bird Island head off to southern African coastal waters, and we have past ringing recoveries from Namibia.  Great to hear more about one of the Bird Island birds.”

Southern African recoveries and sightings of Black-browed Albatrosses from Bird Island from the 1960s.  Blue circles represent sightings, brown longline casualties and red deaths from other causes. Locations over land are due to inaccurate reporting.  Map by Andy Wood, British Antarctic Survey.

It is noteworthy that whereas this bird and its mate have attempted breeding together for at least eight years in a row they have only been successful in fledging a chick every second year.

With thanks to Kolette Grobler, Jessica Kemper and Andy Wood for information and photographs.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 May 2014

*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.

ACAP Breeding Site No. 71. Diomedea Island in Antarctica supports a few Southern Giant Petrels – but no albatrosses despite its name

Diomedea Island is a small rocky elevated island situated in Ardley Cove, Maxwell Bay between Ardley Island and the Fildes Peninsula of King George Island (KGI).  It forms part of the South Shetland Islands off the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.  In low areas moss beds and algae are present with lichens occurring on the more elevated rocks.

Three views of Diomedea Island

Close by on the peninsula lie the Chilean Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva  and the Russian Bellingshausen Station.

From the 1979/80 summer season to 2013/14 from nil to 17 pairs of Southern Giant Petrels Macronectes giganteus have been recorded breeding on the island, with the latest season yielding 10 pairs.

 A Southern Giant Petrel on its nest on Diomedea Island

Photographs by Christina Braun

The island was originally named Ostrov Al'batros (Albatross Island, or Isla Albatros in Spanish) by the Soviet Antarctic Expedition of 1968, but was changed to Diomedea in 1979 to avoid confusion with an Albatross Island elsewhere within the general region.  However, albatrosses do not occur and so perhaps Macronectes Island would have been a more appropriate name.

Diomedea Island is located in the direct line of the approach path of the Chilean Teniente Rodolfo Marsh Martin Aerodrome.  Low overflights were common in the past but have been greatly strongly reduced since 2003/04. The island also lies close to anchoring grounds used by supply, cruise and patrol vessels.  Diesel resupply to Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva takes place via an underwater pipeline close by.  Only occasional visits are made by station personnel; it is not a site where tourism occurs. 

Selected Literature:

Braun, C., Hertel, F., Mustafa, O., Nordt, A., Pfeiffer, S. & Peter, H.-U. 2013.  Environmental situation and management challenges for the Fildes Peninsula Region.  In: Tin, T., Liggett, D., Maher, P. & Lamers, M.E. (Eds). The Future of Antarctica: Human Impacts, Strategic Planning, and Values for Conservation.  Dordrecht: Springer.  pp. 169-191. 

Braun, C., Mustafa, O., Nordt, A., Pfeiffer, S. & Peter, H.-U. 2012.  Environmental monitoring and management proposals for the Fildes Region, King George Island, Antarctica.  Polar Research 31. 18 pp. 

Patterson, D.L., Woehler, E.J., Croxall, J.P., Cooper, J., Poncet, S., Peter, H.-U., Hunter, S. & Fraser, M.W. 2008.  Breeding distribution and population status of the Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli and Southern Giant Petrel M. giganteusMarine Ornithology 36: 115-124 and appendix.

Peter, H.-U., Kaiser, M. & Gebauer, A. 1991.  Breeding ecology of the southern giant petrels Macronectes giganteus on King George Island (South Shetland Islands, Antarctic).  Zoologisches Jahrbuch Systematik 118: 465-477.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer & Christina Braun, University of Jena, Germany, 12 May 2014

More on mercury contamination in sub-Antarctic albatrosses and petrels

Alice Carravieri (Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Villiers-en-Bois, France) and colleagues publish in the journal Environmental Pollution on mercury contamination in the Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans and other sub-Antarctic albatrosses and petrels.

The paper’s abstract follows:

Mercury (Hg) contamination poses potential threats to ecosystems worldwide.  In order to study Hg bioavailability in the poorly documented southern Indian Ocean, Hg exposure was investigated in the large avian community of Kerguelen Islands.  Adults of 27 species (480 individuals) showed a wide range of feather Hg concentrations, from 0.4 ± 0.1 to 16.6 ± 3.8 µg g-1 dry weight in Wilson’s storm petrels and wandering albatrosses, respectively. Hg concentrations increased roughly in the order crustacean- < fish- ≤ squid- ≤ carrion-consumers, confirming that diet, rather than taxonomy, is an important driver of avian Hg exposure.  Adults presented higher Hg concentrations than chicks, due to a longer duration of exposure, with the only exception being the subantarctic skua, likely because of feeding habits’ differences of the two age-classes in this species.  High Hg concentrations were reported for three species of the poorly known gadfly petrels, which merit further investigation.”

Wandering Albatrosses fly over Kerguelen Island, photograph by Maite Louzao

Click here for a related publication.


Carravieri, A., Cherel, Y., Blévin, P., Brault-Favrou, M., Chastel, O. & Bustamante, P.  2014.  Mercury exposure in a large subantarctic avian community.  Environmental Pollution 190: 51-57.

For the complete manuscript click here.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 May 2014

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