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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A Balearic Shearwater breeding island is considered threatened by plans to use its lighthouse as a hotel

The island of Sa Conillera, in Spain’s Balearic Archipelago supports a breeding population of the ACAP-listed and Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus.

Sa Conillera, the lighthouse is just discernable above the cliffs on the right of the island

Plans to use the lighthouse as a hotel on the uninhabited 100-ha island have raised concern for the island’s shearwater population.  The Sociedad Española de Ornitología (SEO/BirdLife) and the Ibiza Preservation Fund have concluded in a recent discussion meeting that “the highest level of precaution is needed to avoid irrevocable damage to the island’s biodiversity” (click here).

"The meeting sends a strong message to the developers and to the Balearic government," stated Iván Ramírez, Head of Conservation at BirdLife Europe. "Although many in society see moneymaking opportunities in our last wild places, it is encouraging to see that the people of the Balearic archipelago recognise the area’s intrinsic value" (click here).

Balearic Shearwater, photograph from the Ibiza Preservation Fund

The website of the magazine Birdwatch reports: “[t]he island is a protected national marine area and is safeguarded by EU law for its seabirds through the Natura 2000 network.  But this is all about to change when the only building on the tiny island, the lighthouse, will be converted into an exclusive boutique hotel.  The development and running of touristic infrastructure will disrupt the breeding seabirds, many of which nest right next to the building."

“The hotel will also increase the risk of introducing predators such as cats and mice, which would prey on seabird eggs and chicks," said Pep Arcos, Marine Coordinator at SEO/BirdLife Spain, "with devastating impacts on the population of Balearic Shearwater, a species which is already on the brink of extinction."

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 03 June 2013

A Black-browed Albatross visits the inshore waters of Denmark and Germany

Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris are quite regularly recorded as vagrants in the North Atlantic having crossed the Equator, with records of birds seen at sea and even holding nest sites in Northern Gannet Morus bassanus colonies over a number of years (click here).

An adult Black-browed Albatross was photographed flying past Skagen, Denmark’s most northerly point that separates the Skagerrak from the Kattegat at the entrance to the Baltic Sea on 26 May this year.  The bird was seen flying over land as well out to sea and had also been seen the previous day in the vicinity (click here).

The Skagen Black-browed Albatross, photograph by John Larsen

Two days later, on 28 May an adult Black-browed Albatross, quite possibly the same bird, was photographed flying south from the Heligoland Islands, 46 km off the Atlantic coast of Germany (click here).

The Heligoland Black-browed Albatross - the same bird?

Photograph by Felix Jachmann

Black-browed Albatrosses have been reported for both countries previously.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 02 June 2014

Management Plan prescriptions for the Gough and Inaccessible Islands World Heritage Site now online

The Gough and Inaccessible Islands World Heritage Site is made up of two of the four Tristan islands in the South Atlantic, themselves part of the United Kingdom Overseas Territory of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.  Both Gough and Inaccessible (and their surrounding waters) are nature reserves and since 2008 Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance, reflecting their high conservation values.  The islands support breeding populations of six species of ACAP-listed albatrosses and petrels, including Critically Endangered Tristan Diomedea dabbenena and Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Thalassarche chlororhynchos Albatrosses and the Vulnerable Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata, all endemic to the island group.

Spectacled Petrel - endemic to Inaccessible Island

Photograph by Peter Ryan

A single management plan for the World Heritage Site available on-line from the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) - that replaced earlier individual plans for each island - has now been joined by a series of 19 appendices that include a Description and Resource Inventory, Management Policies and Prescription Guidelines, applicable legislation and a Scientific and Historical Bibliography, along with species lists and other documents (click here).

Reference:

RSPB and Tristan da Cunha Government 2010.  Gough and Inaccessible Islands World Heritage Site Management Plan April 2010 – March 2015.  32 pp. & 19 Appendices.

With thanks to Clare Stringer for information.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 01 June 2014

Bottom up or top down? Macaroni Penguins considered negatively impacted by an increase in numbers of giant petrels on a South Atlantic island

Catharine Horswill (British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK) and colleagues have published open access in the Journal of Animal Ecology on how giant petrels Macronectes spp. may be causing declines in numbers of Macaroni Penguins Eudyptes chrysolophus.

The paper’s summary follows:

  1. Understanding the demographic response of free-living animal populations to different drivers is the first step towards reliable prediction of population trends.
  2. Penguins have exhibited dramatic declines in population size, and many studies have linked this to bottom-up processes altering the abundance of prey species.  The effects of individual traits have been considered to a lesser extent, and top-down regulation through predation has been largely overlooked due to the difficulties in empirically measuring this at sea where it usually occurs.
  3. For 10 years (2003–2012), macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) were marked with subcutaneous electronic transponder tags and re-encountered using an automated gateway system fitted at the entrance to the colony.  We used multistate mark–recapture modelling to identify the different drivers influencing survival rates and a sensitivity analysis to assess their relative importance across different life stages.
  4. Survival rates were low and variable during the fledging year (mean = 0·33), increasing to much higher levels from age 1 onwards (mean = 0·89).  We show that survival of macaroni penguins is driven by a combination of individual quality, top-down predation pressure and bottom-up environmental forces.  The relative importance of these covariates was age specific.  During the fledging year, survival rates were most sensitive to top-down predation pressure, followed by individual fledging mass, and finally bottom-up environmental effects.  In contrast, birds older than 1 year showed a similar response to bottom-up environmental effects and top-down predation pressure.
  5. We infer from our results that macaroni penguins will most likely be negatively impacted by an increase in the local population size of giant petrels.  Furthermore, this population is, at least in the short term, likely to be positively influenced by local warming.  More broadly, our results highlight the importance of considering multiple causal effects across different life stages when examining the survival rates of seabirds.

A Southern Giant Petrel kills a penguin at sea, photograph by Peter Ryan

Reference:

Horswill, C., Matthiopoulos, J., Green, J.A., Meredith, M.P., Forcada, J., Peat, H., Preston, M., Trathan, P.N. & Ratcliffe, N. 2014.  Survival in macaroni penguins and the relative importance of different drivers: individual traits, predation pressure and environmental variability.  Journal of Animal Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12229.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 31 May 2014

74 White-chinned Petrels fall victim to a toothfish longliner in the South Atlantic

In recent seasons the Patagonian Toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides longline fishery in CCAMLR Statistical Area 48.3 in the vicinity of South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur*) has commenced a few days earlier each year.  The benefits of starting earlier include the chance of safer conditions at sea.  After many years of negligible bycatch of seabirds in this fishery one vessel has reported catching 74 ACAP-listed White-chinned Petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis on a single longline set on 16 April this year.

In the early years of this fishery in the 1990s large numbers of albatrosses and petrels were killed and as a consequence the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) introduced a number of measures to reduce the bycatch, including limiting the fishing season to winter months, restricting the setting of lines to darkness, ensuring lines sink quickly and enforcing the use of bird-scaring lines, resulting in a reduction of bird bycatch to close to zero.  Following the introduction of these measures the fishery achieved Marine Stewardship Council certification.

A hooked White-chinned Petrel, photograph by Nicolas Gasco

Because of this success CCAMLR has, since 2010, approved an earlier start date for the season that has been incrementally and experimentally brought forward by five days each year.  The incidental catch of White-chinned Petrels occurred on a line set during this experimental extension period.  Mitigation measures in the fishery have now been adjusted so that vessels complete the setting of lines at least three hours before sunrise until 15 May to reduce the risk of incidental capture of any more White-chinned Petrels.

Report adapted from Penguin News, 25 April 2014.

With thanks to Sally Poncet for information.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 30 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.

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