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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Studying the Balearic Shearwater population of Sa Dragonera Island

Greg Morgan (RSPB, Ramsey Island, UK) and colleagues write in Seabird, the journal of the Seabird Group on the population of the Critically Endangered and ACAP-listed Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus on Sa Dragonera Island.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus is a Critically Endangered species endemic to the Balearic Islands, subject to a severe decline that could lead to the extinction of the species within three generations (Oro et al. 200).  Predation by introduced mammals is considered the main threat facing the species at its breeding grounds, and therefore conservation action is required along with subsequent monitoring in a species where such information is lacking.  In order to assess the long-term impact of a rodent eradication project on the breeding success of the species on Sa Dragonera island, a series of study plots were established in April 2013.  A survey was carried out to establish the minimum number of known Apparently Occupied Sites (AOS) within each plot.  All potential nest sites within each plot were sampled for the presence of a bird(s) using a combination of methods: (i) tape playback, (ii) physical sighting (by eye or with an endoscope) and (iii) obvious signs of occupation. 33 AOS in 12 study plots were identified.  This project was not a whole island estimate; rather it led to the establishment of a series of repeatable study plots, providing reference estimates of breeding pairs in defined areas on the island to enable monitoring of future changes in the population size following predator removal.”

Balearic Shearwater, photographed by Daniel Oro

Reference:

Morgan, G., McMinn, M., Wynn, R., Meier, R., Maurice, L., Sevilla, B., Rodriguez, A. & Guilford, T. 2013.  Establishing repeatable study plots on Sa Dragonera, Mallorca to assess population trends of the local breeding Balearic Shearwaters Puffinus mauretanicusSeabird 26: 32-41.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 08 February 2014

Short-tailed Albatross pair at the Mukojima translocation colony fails to hatch an egg for a second season

“Last season a pair of endangered Short-tailed Albatrosses Phoebastria albatrus (STAL) produced an egg for the first time at a prospective new breeding ground on an uninhabited island.  Researchers examining the egg found that it was infertile.  Expert analysis continues to determine reasons for failure to successfully hatch an egg at the new breeding site.

Short-tailed Albatross pair attempts to incubate their apparently infertile egg, Mukojima, Ogasawara Islands, November, 2013

The Japanese Ministry of Environment, Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, and other participants are attempting to establish the new breeding site at Mukojima, Ogasawara Islands, 350 kilometres away from the current breeding site at Torishima, Izu Islands because of the danger of annihilation of the breeding colony by volcanic eruption on Torishima.  Last November a surveillance camera installed by NHK and Yamashina Institute on Mukojima confirmed that a nesting STAL pair had again produced an egg.

When the egg failed to hatch on the day predicted early this month, researchers land[ed] on the island to examine the egg, [and] found it to be spoiled.  The year before last this same pair produced the first egg on Mukojima, but it failed to hatch, apparently being infertile (click here).

Since this season’s egg again did not contain a chick embryo, it appears not to have been fertilized.  Yamashina Deputy Director General Kyoaki Ozaki commented, “This is a young pair that we think may not yet have developed compatible breeding rhythms.  Considering that the female has a different ancestry from the Torishima population, we next have to investigate the influence of ecological differences.”

Kyoaki Ozaki writes to ACAP: “Unfortunately, the egg laid last December did not hatch.  [Tomohiro] Deguchi-san checked it on 12 January and the egg was already spoiled.  But this time both the male (A01) and female (unbanded) incubated.  We are hoping [for] next season!”

Click here to read earlier new stories on the translocation of Short-tailed Albatross chicks to Mukojima.

With thanks to Kiyoaki Ozaki, Division of Avian Conservation, Bird Migration Research Center, Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, Japan for information and to Chuck Pell for the translation from the original Japanese text.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 05 February 2014

Wedge-tailed Shearwaters feeding small chicks in the Seychelles forage over an upwelling bank

Jacopo Cecere (Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, Ozzano dell'Emilia, Italy) and colleagues write in the journal Waterbirds on foraging grounds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus in the Seychelles.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Seabird movements during foraging trips and their preference for particular areas have recently been the focus of many studies aimed at gaining a better understanding of the ecological requirements of several species.  During the last decade, the use of new devices, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and geo-locator loggers, has allowed researchers to perform more investigations of this type.  GPS devices were used on Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) breeding on Aride Island, Seychelles, to identify the main foraging areas used during early chick-rearing and to assess at-sea foraging habitat selection.  Thirteen foraging trips were recorded, 61.5% of which lasted 1 day.  One main foraging area, located approximately 100 km east of the colony just outside a granitic bank characterized by upwelling and higher values of primary production compared to surrounding areas, was identified.  The foraging area size (3,313 km2) was much smaller than that identified during late chick-rearing (160,000 km2) in a previous study.  This is probably due to the exigency to feed chicks more regularly and hence to find foraging areas closer to the colony during the early chick-rearing.  The identification of key marine conservation areas, like those identified in this study, is a priority for designating marine Important Bird Areas and identifying habitat management measures.  The results of this study should be relevant for the development of conservation plans for Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and for other seabirds in the area.”

Wedge-tailed Shearwater in the Seychelles, photograph by Alan Burger

Reference:

Cecere, J.G., Calabrese, L. Rocamora, G. & Catoni, C. 2013.  Movement patterns and habitat selection of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) breeding at Aride Island, Seychelles.  Waterbirds 36:c432-437. doi: .

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 06 February 2014

Book review: Albatroz um Projeto pela Vida (Albatross a Project for Life) by Tatiana Neves

Neves, T. 2013.  Albatroz um Projeto pela Vida.  São Paulo: DBA Dórea Books and Art.  132 pp.  Hard cover with dust jacket and in full colour.  ISBN 978-857234475-3.  www.dbaeditora.com.br

Tatiana Neves, General Co-ordinator (Coordenação Geral) of Projeto Albatroz (the Albatross Project) in Brazil has written a captivating coffee-table book in Portuguese (English translation: ‘Albatross a Project for Life’) packed with striking double-page images showing off these magnificent birds, both albatrosses and petrels, on land and at sea, coupled with images of the people with whom they share the oceans and fate.  Although the imagery is biased towards the Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris, the most commonly encountered albatross species off the Brazilian coast, other species are also beautifully depicted.

Albatroz um Projeto pela Vida by Tatiana Neves

The book is divided into four main chapters.  Although each chapter is presented in the same way their subsequent layouts vary significantly in style and length, with the second chapter making up close to half the book.  The initial pages contain the dedication, prefaces and a table of contents. The Acknowledgements are to be found at the back of the book together with a list of all recognized albatross species, highlighting those that occur in Brazilian waters. The main petrel species occurring in Brazil are also listed highlighting the ones that interact with fishing operations. A list of photographic credits and publishing information end the book.

The title cleverly introduces both the main subject of the author, the trajectory of the civil society organization Projeto Albatroz and the author’s own passion and engagement in this life’s project.  It is almost devoid of technical language making for very accessible reading.  The first chapter translates as the ‘Route of the Albatross’ and takes the reader along a time line of vignettes summarizing key turning points in the history of the organization from the early days and events that inspired its creation in 1990 to 2012 when it became part of Rede Biomar, a network of marine conservation organizations sponsored by Petrobras, the Brazilian state petrochemical giant.

The second chapter is not only the longest but also of most relevance to the Albatross and Petrel Agreement.  The first half sets the scene with descriptions of the general biology of albatrosses, their behavioural traits, such as the migratory routes that bring the birds to the Brazilian coast and their adaptations to a life at sea and on land.  All 22 albatross species are briefly mentioned along with the location of their main colonies.  Next the author deals with the main problems facing albatrosses and petrels in general, but particularly in Brazilian waters. The main focus is on longline fishing and on a description of how this and other fishing practices common to Brazil pose a threat to the birds.  Poignant photography of a Black-browed Albatross attempting to dislodge bait from a longline hook brings the message home. The chapter then flows seamlessly into a brief account of the inception of the organization before moving onto the main work done by Projeto Albatroz.  This centres on how the work of adapting bird-scaring lines to Brazilian needs was achieved by working closely with fishers, and how this collaboration is at the core of the organization’s success. The chapter ends with a brief mention of milestones and of its recognition at national and more recently at international level.  The chapter, although long, is to the point and kept alive through vivid and relevant photography engaging the reader through a thematic which could otherwise be technical and boring.

The last two chapters move away from a direct focus on the birds and deal with the education and outreach arm of Projeto Albatroz.  They include various boxes with testimonies from fishers, on-board observers, members of the public and authorities.  The book ends by briefly summarizing the work of the other four marine conservation organizations that form part of Rede Biomar.

I found the inconsistent presentation and layout styles between the chapters to be one of the few jarring notes. The slightly unconventional arrangement of preface texts scattered between other technical pages at the front of the book was a bit of a distraction, but the pleasing images quickly overcame that.  The decision to first detail the Projeto Albatroz timeline (perhaps the most technical aspect of the book) in Chapter 1 before introducing readers to albatrosses and their plight in Chapter 2 is surprising, and although I found it engaging I suspect readers less familiar with albatross conservation may benefit from a different sequence.

In summary the book uses stunning imagery to full effect to draw readers in. This combines with readable and engaging prose to fulfil the objectives of inspiring and educating the layperson about the life and plight of these amazing birds.  Furthermore, by tracking the progress and history of the organization Projeto Albatroz it informs us about the enormous efforts and on-going work that goes into their protection.

The book stands as a testament and example of what can be achieved through the tenacity, passion and humility of someone such as Tatiana Neves who has attended many ACAP meetings as part of the Brazilian Delegation and is currently serving as Vice-convenor of ACAP’s Seabird Bycatch Working Group.  At every turn she writes of the collective effort that has gone into achieving each of the milestones.  Although it is written mainly about the Brazilian situation and as such is in Portuguese, the lessons and messages are universal to other nations facing similar conservation issues, and it would be of great value to see it translated into the three official ACAP languages of English, French and Spanish.

Andrea Angel holds Tatiana Neves' book

Photographs by John Cooper

Andrea Angel, Cape Town, South Africa, 05 February 2014

ACAP Breeding Site No. 62. San Benedicto Island, Mexico, has a small, growing population of Laysan Albatrosses

Isla San Benedicto is located 370 km south of the tip of Baja California and is one of three main islands in the Mexican Islas Revillagigedos Archipelago. The Reserva de la Biosfera Archipiélago de Revillagigedo (established in 1994) was designated as a Ramsar Wetland Site of International Importance in 2004 and is on Mexico's World Heritage Tentative List, as well as being an Endemic Bird Area.

Bárcena Crater (in the background), which erupted and formed in 1952-53; the photo was taken from Herrera Crater where Masked Boobies breed, March 1988

Isla San Benedicto is a small (6.4 x 3.2 km) uninhabited volcanic island with an elevation of 332 m.  In August 1952 the island erupted and destroyed all of the plant life, along with the only two species of breeding landbirds, and most of the breeding seabirds.  Over time, the seabirds and some of the vegetation have returned to the island.  Currently, the southern half of the island is still largely covered with ash and free of vegetation; the northern half, which supports most of the breeding seabirds, has dense patches of bunch grass Eragrostis diversifolia but little other vegetation.

The north end of San Benedicto Island where most of the seabirds (including albatrosses) breed and nearly all of the vegetation occurs; breeding Masked Boobies are visible, December 1999

From the north rim of Bárcena Crater across Herrera Crater toward the north end of the island showing the sparse dry vegetation, December 1999

The Near Threatened and ACAP-listed Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis first began scouting for breeding colonies in the eastern Pacific in the mid-1970s, and the first nests were reported (at Guadalupe Island, Mexico) during the 1983/84 winter nesting season. We first observed Laysans roosting on San Benedicto in May 1987, and found the first nest there when we returned in November 1990 – it is likely, therefore, that nesting began sometime in the late 1980s.  The colony appears to be growing slowly, from one pair in 1990, two to five pairs in April 1992, eight in December 1999, 12 in December 2000, and 17 in December 2003.  Unlike Guadalupe Island, we have not seen any banded birds on San Benedicto.

A Laysan Albatross with a recently laid egg on San Benedicto Island, Mexico, 3 December 1999

The Near Threatened and ACAP-listed Black-footed Albatross P. nigripes was first observed on the island in December 1999 when a single individual was seen roosting with three Laysan Albatrosses.  In December 2000 we found a single bird on an egg (although its mate was not present), but in December 2003 we did not find this species on the island, including at the former nest site.  Its current status on San Benedicto is unknown.

The Critically Endangered Townsend’s Shearwater Puffinus auricularis has not been reported breeding on the island since the 1952 eruption.  However, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters P. pacificus have been recorded breeding with an estimate of 1000 pairs.

Although the seabird populations on San Benedicto are all small-to-moderate in size, it does support perhaps the most diverse population of breeding pelecaniforms of any island in the World, including four species of sulids (Masked, Nazca, Brown and Red-footed Boobies; Sula dactylatra, S. granti, S. leucogaster and S. sula, respectively), two frigatebirds (Great Fregata minor and Magnificent F. magnificens), and probably two species of tropicbirds (Red-billed Phaethon aethereus and Red-tailed P. rubricauta).

It is difficult to get ashore on San Benedicto and currently there are no introduced animals on the island; bird populations there appear to be relatively safe for the time being.

Laysan Albatrosses also breed on Clarion Island in the archipelago (click here).

Photographs by Bob Pitman.

Selected References:

Brattstrom, B.H. 1963.  Bárcena Volcano, 1952: its effect on the fauna and flora of San Benedicto Island, Mexico.  In: Grissett, J.L. (Ed.).  Pacific Basin Biogeography.  Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.  pp. 499-524.

Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas 2004.  Programa de Conservación y Manejo Reserva de La Biosfera Archipiélago de Revillagigedo.  Tlalpan: Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas.  220 p.

Howell, S.N.G. & Webb, S. 1990. The seabirds of Las Islas Revillagigedos, Mexico.  Wilson Bulletin 102: 140-146.

Pitman, R.L. & Balance, L.T. 2002.  The changing status of marine birds breeding at San Benedicto Island, Mexico.  Wilson Bulletin 114:11-19.

Pitman, R.L., Walker, W.A., Everett, W.T. & Gallo-Reynoso, J.P. 2004.  Population status, foods and foraging of Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis, nesting on Guadalupe Island, Mexico.  Marine Ornithology.

Bob Pitman, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California, USA & John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 February 2013

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