August 2002 Newsletter

In this issue:

Spain Signs!

Micro data loggers - the latest albatross accessory?

Genetics and species identification - a breakthrough!

New Zealand Workshop: Ground-Breaking Seabird Alliance

BirdLife International

Spain Signs!

The Interim Secretariat warmly welcomes any news from Range States about their progress with signature or ratification. Further progress towards implementation of the Agreement was made recently when Spain signed the Agreement on 30 April 2002.

Spain is to be commended on being the first major fishing nation to recognise the importance of the Agreement in the conservation of these great ocean wanderers.

Spain interacts with many seabirds during its fishing activities, including the threatened albatrosses and petrels which forage in the Southern Ocean. Spain's signing signifies the strong commitment they have towards minimising any threats their fishing activities may have on these birds.

The Spanish Government has also recently introduced new legislation that further reinforces their commitment to reducing seabird by-catch in their fisheries. The new legislation is applicable to all Spanish-flagged pelagic longline fishing vessels that operate south of 30oS.

Spain's signature brings the number of signatories to eight countries, with seven countries previously signing the Agreement at the signing ceremony on 19 June 2001.

Micro data loggers - the latest albatross accessory?

South Africa has been utilising the latest technology in a study on both Wandering and Grey-headed Albatrosses.

The Micro data logger is a miniaturised geolocation and activity recording device developed for seabird research by the British Antarctic Survey. The device weighs 13g and can be re-used for subsequent deployments for the life of the battery (c. 36 months). Light-intensity measurements allow the calculation of positional data of long distance movements from day length latitude) and times of sunrise and sunset (longitude). The accuracy is affected by cloud cover, shading, proximity to the equinox and the distance covered. The electrodes can be used as a salt-water detector, enabling the calculation of the percentage of time spent on the sea surface against time flying or time spent ashore (activity data).

These devices were deployed on 20 adult Grey-headed Albatrosses, Thalassarche chrysostoma, and 30 adult Wandering Albatrosses, Diomedea exulans, between 10 April and 30 June 2002 on Marion Island (46°54'S; 37°45'E), Southern Indian Ocean. The Albatrosses fitted with data loggers are from study colonies where long-term research has been conducted. The age and sex of the majority of the birds is known, as well as long-term data on breeding success (26 years' data in the case of D. exulans); also, these birds are already marked with alpha-numeric Darvic colour bands. Furthermore, the loggers should be easy to recover, as the birds return biennially to breed at these study colonies that are regularly checked.

Three data loggers were placed for a period of one week, with a clear view to the horizon, close to each of the two Albatross colonies, and the GPS co-ordinates recorded. The data from these loggers were downloaded before deployment, and will be used to calibrate the loggers' positional data. The loggers were each attached to a Darvic leg band by means of a UV-resistant cable tie threaded through two pre-drilled holes in the band. The band, logger and cable tie were glued together for extra hold. The loggers were then deployed on the bird by simply applying the Darvic ring in the normal way, though care had to be taken that the ring was warm when opened with the pliers, or it would break.

Grey-headed Albatrosses were caught in the main study colony at Grey-headed Ridge as they came in to feed their chicks, which were soon to fledge. On 10 and 21 April, any adult seen landing in the colony was caught using a bird-crook, taken out of the colony to minimise disturbance, and the data logger placed above the metal ring. Data loggers were fitted onto ten males, five females and five birds of unknown sex.

Both adults of thirteen pairs of Wandering Albatrosses, and a further three females and one male were fitted with data loggers - 16 females and 14 males in total. These were all within the MacaroniBay study colony, or between there and the Meteorological Station (Base). The birds were caught with the bird-crook, and the data logger placed above the metal ring, as with the Grey-headed Albatrosses. The sex of the bird was determined using existing data and plumage colouration.

The Grey-headed Albatrosses departed from the colony soon after the loggers were fitted, as their chicks fledged early in May. The movements of the adults will be tracked for their 'sabbatical year', and possibly compared with movements by the same birds during incubation and chick rearing when they return for the next breeding season. The Wandering Albatross chicks will fledge between November and February, so movements of the adults during chick-rearing and the 'sabbatical year' thereafter can be compared. Movements can also be plotted against known positions of longline fishing vessels and weather systems, and comparisons drawn between males and females. Activity data may be used to calculate time feeding or resting on the sea surface. One Wandering Albatross chick, of which both adults have been fitted with data loggers, died early in June. It will be interesting to see whether the adults return to breed next season or take an extended 'sabbatical year', and how this affects their movements.

Albatrosses with data loggers fitted have been sighted two months after the deployment of the device, and in each case the logger is still firmly attached to the leg-band and the bird seems oblivious to the tiny device.

Our thanks to Michelle du Toit and Dumile Tshingana for providing this interesting article.

Genetics and species identification - a breakthrough!

A study that is being undertaken at the Australian National University on the Conservation Genetics of Shy and White-capped Albatrosses has recently made an important breakthrough!

Shy albatrosses breed on Tasmanian islands; white-capped albatrosses breed in New Zealand's Auckland Island group. Until now, the high degree of physical similarity between these species made it impossible to distinguish between shy and white-capped albatrosses caught on longline hooks. For this reason, they are often referred to together as "shy-types." "Shy-type" albatrosses are known to be caught by longliners in Australian, New Zealand, and South African waters.

The good news is that a simple genetic test has successfully been developed that can distinguish between shy and white-capped albatrosses. The test is being used to screen "shy-type" by-catch carcasses from various fishing zones to determine the proportions of each species caught.

This species-specific tool is an important step towards the study's aim of developing a genetic method of determining the natal population of by-catch shy and white-capped albatrosses. Continuing success would have this system up and running by the end of this year. The ability to assign provenance to by-catch "shy-types" would enable more accurate by-catch rate assessments for both species, contribute to the preservation of these species across their entire natural ranges, generate information on population-specific migration patterns at sea, and identify whether any populations have a particularly high risk of extinction.

Cathryn Abbott, Australian National University

New Zealand Workshop: Ground-Breaking Seabird Alliance

Representatives from the fishing industry, environmental groups and government agencies have formed a ground-breaking alliance to tackle the problem of albatrosses and petrels that breed in New Zealand becoming caught on longline fishing hooks by fleets around the southern hemisphere.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Fisheries hosted a two-day workshop in Nelson to find common ground between the different groups and to develop a plan to help conserve the birds.

As a result, a group calling itself Southern Seabirds Solutions has been established to tackle the issue. The group also agreed on the importance of continuing to address this problem within New Zealand waters.

Its brief is to build on initiatives already being taken to stop seabirds being killed - and to accelerate that progress.

The group includes representatives from the fishing industry, environmental groups, government departments, Te Ohu Kai Moana, fisheries training organisations, an eco-tourism company, Environment Australia, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the Marine Stewardship Council, and Birdlife International.

The Nelson workshop was organised by Janice Molloy, who coordinates DOC's programme to make international progress on albatross and petrel conservation. A number of participants came to the workshop uncertain what could be achieved but nevertheless convinced that it was a good idea to put people with different viewpoints in the same room to discuss the issue.

They left saying the results had far exceeded their expectations and keen to continue working together. The group identified a number of key tasks to work on in the next year - including identifying good role models within fisheries around the world, skipper exchange programmes, promoting international agreements, exchanging information internationally about mitigation measures, and encouraging further development of these measures.

Our thanks to Janice Molloy, New Zealand Department of Conservation for the update.

BirdLife International

The interaction between economic, social and environmental indicators has in the past formed the foundation for BirdLife's analysis of sustainable development.

We are caught in a world that tends to measure prosperity and growth by looking at the economic profitability of the conservation steps that we, as conservationists, advocate.

The question is: Is the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) a profitable and sustainable agreement? BirdLife would like to reason so, but reasons needs sound fact. In the negotiations leading to the development of the text of ACAP, BirdLife advocated that nature does pay. We argued and lobbied the view that ACAP is a truly global agreement aimed at conserving seabirds that migrate across oceans that know no boundary.

We promoted the view that the resources of the High Seas and the migratory nature of seabirds have created the opportunity in the Agreement that governments have to cross their own economic and political differences to find a common approach to protect an environmental resource of which they share custodianship.

As predators and scavengers, albatrosses and petrels occupy the upper notches in the oceanic life cycle, a cycle that we as humans depend on to provide us with protein. We could remove the seabirds from the cycle, but we do not know the consequences of this step and we have no right to make the decision to play judge and jury.

ACAP encourages the fishing nations to acknowledge the role the seabirds play in providing a barometer of healthy fish stocks. BirdLife too has advocated this line of sustainability and we have devoted our time and energy to ensure that ACAP reflects the need of all, and in particular our clients the seabirds as well as our conservation partners, the fishermen.

We believe that the ratification and implementation of ACAP's plan of action is a step in the right direction and that the Agreement would provide the impetus for future agreements that would build on the unique sustainable relationship between man and bird. The Action Plan associated with ACAP is an important element of the Agreement. The Action Plan seeks to promote species conservation; restore the habitat and protect the breeding sites of the albatrosses and petrels; manage human activities in order to ensure sustainability of seabird numbers; monitor and research man and seabird activity through at‑sea observers; educate and raise public awareness of the role of seabirds and implement the steps outlined in the Action Plan. It is in the Action Plan that we fulfil our mandate to ensure the sustainable development of all seabird populations in all the global seas.

Thanks to BirdLife International for this article.

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.

About ACAP

ACAP Secretariat

119 Macquarie St
Hobart TAS 7000

Tel: +61 3 6165 6674