Reducing the risks of entanglement and ingestion: removing marine debris from albatross and petrel islands around the World

Ingestion of and entanglement with anthropogenic objects floating on the sea surface that have been discarded by vessels or washed into the sea from rivers and storm drains are known risks to albatrosses and petrels over the whole World.  In the Southern Ocean, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has adopted measures to reduce such risks (click here).

Latest news from Australia's Macquarie Island describes (and depicts) efforts being made to clear that island of anthropogenic marine debris, using helicopters that have been based on the island as part of the recently postponed attempt to eradicate alien mammals.

Regular clean-ups of beached marine debris also take place at South Africa's sub-Antarctic Marion Island, as well as at other islands in the Southern Ocean where ACAP-listed species breed and field workers are present.  More problematic is the removal of debris from uninhabited islands that do not support weather or research bases.  In April this year I observed and photographed the many plastic fishing floats and bottles that have accumulated over the years in the westward-facing McNish Bay and at South Cape on Prince Edward Island, 21 km from Marion.  This island is little-visited as a conservation measure to reduce the risks of introducing new alien species.  Nevertheless, a clean-up has been proposed for when the next visit is made, with the collection of debris into piles above the storm line for later removal by helicopter as the first essential step.  Such an effort will allow the rate of arrival of newly washed-up debris to be monitored when further visits are made.

Marine debris clean-ups also take place at the breeding sites of North Pacific albatrosses listed within ACAP (click here for an example).  Ingestion of anthropogenic objects, such as cigarette lighters, remains a serious problem for both Laysan Phoebastria immutabilis and Black-footed P. nigripes Albatrosses in the North Pacific (click here).

Click here for an earlier news story on this web site on the risks to albatrosses and giant petrels of the ingestion of fishing hooks and entanglement in fishing gear in the Southern Ocean.

More information on the marine debris issue may be found in a recent thematic issue 'Plastics, the Environment and Human Health' in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Biological Sciences (click here).

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 2 August 2010

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

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