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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ACAP’s Population and Conservation Status Working Group completes its 2014 meeting: lasers and eyeballs, hook removal guidelines and criteria for identifying candidate species for listing

ACAP’s Population and Conservation Status Working Group (PaCSWG) closed its meeting yesterday afternoon after two days of fruitful discussions in Uruguay.  Not put off by regular thunder claps, lightning and a cloud burst during the day, with consequent intermittent down times of the Internet stopping access to documents, the meeting considered a wide range of subjects.  Highlights follow.

The meeting considered a document (SBWG6 Inf 23) which described the use of a powerful laser to deter birds from longlines.  The working group discussed methods that might help determine if the use of a laser could damage the retinas of albatrosses and petrels.  It was noted that the collection of eyes from birds found dead at colonies or obtained as bycatch would help a proposed physiological study in the United States to address the problem.

A long discussion ensued on the ranking criteria previously developed by ACAP to identify candidate species for inclusion within the Agreement.  It was noted the rankings would change when species are split or lumped.  Additionally, it was confirmed that the criteria were guidelines only and the nomination of new species remained the prerogative of Parties to the Agreement.

Other matters discussed or noted were the forthcoming ACAP guide to the identification of bycaught seabirds, which includes advice on collection of samples for genetic analysis, recently produced ACAP conservation guideline for hook removal from seabirds, as well as updates to existing conservation guidelines on translocation and on biosecurity (click here).

Hook removal guide

The working group then agreed a work plan which lists the many tasks that it hopes to achieve over the next few years, from collection and collation of data on population trends, distribution and threats, to identifying data gaps and priorities for management that should improve both our understanding and the conservation of these highly threatened species.

Click here for a report on the first day of PaCSWG’s second meeting.

Today the ACAP Seabird Bycatch Working Group (SBWG) will start its three-day meeting, the sixth it has held, with Anton Wolfaardt (United Kingdom) in the Chair.

Selected Literature:

Cooper, J. & Baker, G.B. 2008. Identifying candidate species for inclusion within the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.  Marine Ornithology 36: 1-8 & appendices.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 10 September 2014

ACAP’s Population and Conservation Working Group has a successful first day in Uruguay: robot camera, pathogen review, status and trends, the serious plight of Gough’s Tristan Albatrosses and more

ACAP’s Population and Conservation Status Working Group (PaCSWG) started its second meeting yesterday at the Barradas Hotel in the resort town of Punta del Este, Uruguay.  The meeting was chaired by Richard Phillips (Convenor, United Kingdom) aided by Flavio Quintana (Vice Convenor, Argentina) and Wiesława Misiak (ACAP Science Officer).

With nearly 30 participants in the room, useful discussions were held on the first seven items in the meeting’s agenda.  Some highlights of the discussion follow.

The working group heard of Australia’s development of high resolution, time-efficient, remote camera technology – ‘Gigapan’ that enables monitoring of colony-wide breeding behaviour from a proximal vantage point (PaCSWG2 Inf 06).  This technology is based on NASA's Mars Rover camera systems, and allows analysis of combined, multiple megapixel images in a gigapixel format.  The robotic camera has been tested in a Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta colony on Albatross Island off north-west Tasmania.

Shy Albatrosses on Albatross Island, photograph by Rachael Alderman

The working group agreed to submit a recommendation to the Eighth Meeting of the ACAP Advisory Committee, to be held in Punta del Este next week, that it takes note of the deleterious effects of Gough’s “killer” House Mice Mus musculus on the island’s Critically Endangered Tristan Albatrosses Diomedea dabbenena (and other seabirds) and recommends that action be taken to eradicate them.

Jonathan Barrington (Australian Antarctic Division) reported on the plans to review and update Australia’s National Recovery Plan for Threatened Albatrosses and Giant Petrels by 2016.

The meeting took note of progress updating a review of pathogens in ACAP species (PaCSWG2 Doc 04) with inputs by Marcela Uhart of the University of Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine.

Other matters discussed by the PaCSWG include updates to the population trends of the 30 ACAP-listed species (some up, but most either down or currently stable), management of land-based threats, and identifying key gaps in at-sea tracking data, especially of juveniles and immatures.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 09 September 2014

The Marine Stewardship Council reports how certification of a South African trawl fishery has helped save albatrosses – and employment

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) first certified the South African trawl fishery for hake Merluccius spp. in 2004.  The MSC has now reported how certification has not only helped lead to a reduction in albatross and petrel mortality by the adoption of mitigation measures as previously featured  in ACAP Latest News but has led to economic gains to the industry and the protection of up to 12 000 jobs (click here).

“Ten years after it was first certified as sustainable … one of South Africa's oldest commercial fisheries has not only proved its environmental credentials, but has also demonstrated that sustainability can provide long-term economic gains.

"The SA hake fishery has also seen some significant environmental improvements as a result of conditions set at certification.  This includes the introduction of bird-scaring lines. "According to a recent seven-year study by BirdLife South Africa this practice has resulted in a 90% reduction in seabird mortalities, and up to a 99% reduction in accidental albatross deaths in South Africa’s hake trawl fishery.

"A condition on the certification led to the discovery that each year around 10,000 seabirds (70% of which were albatrosses) were being killed accidentally.  BirdLife South Africa recommended the use of bird-scaring lines, to address this problem, and in collaboration with the fishing industry, and with support from the government, conducted scientific research into the effectiveness of this measure.

"Bronwyn Maree, who leads the Albatross Task Force of BirdLife South Africa says: “We’ve worked closely with the certified fishery to demonstrate that avoiding seabird by-catch is good for the environment and good for business.  MSC certification has certainly been instrumental in the successes we’ve seen.”

Black-browed Albatrosses follow a trawler, photograph by Graham Robertson

"Bronwyn recently received recognition for her work on seabird conservation by being named one of the recipients of the prestigious 2014 Future for Nature (FFN) international award.” (click here).

Selected Literature:

Field, J.G., Attwood, C.G., Jarre, A., Sink, K., Atkinson, L.J. and Petersen, S. 2013. Cooperation between scientists, NGOs and industry in support of sustainable fisheries: the South African hake Merluccius spp. trawl fishery experience.  Journal of Fish Biology 83: 1019-1034.

Maree, B.A., Wanless, R.M., Fairweather, T.P., Sullivan, B.J. & Yates, O. 2014.  Significant reductions in mortality of threatened seabirds in a South African trawl fishery.  Animal Conservation doi:10.1111/acv.12126.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 08 September 2104

ACAP Advisory Committee and Working Groups meet from tomorrow in Punta del Este, Uruguay

Delegates and Secretariat members will be travelling to Uruguay this weekend to attend the Eighth Meeting of ACAP’s Advisory Committee (AC8) from Monday, 15 September to Friday, 19 September 2014 in Punta del Este.  Meetings of the Population and Conservation Status Working Group (PCSWG) – its second - and the Seabird Bycatch Working Group (SBWG) – its sixth - will be held prior to AC8 from Monday 8 to Tuesday 9 September (PCSWG), and from Wednesday 10 to Friday 12 September (SBWG).

The Advisory Committee meeting will be chaired by Marco Favero (Argentina), the SBWG by Anton Wolfaardt (United Kingdom) and the PCSWG by Richard Phillips (United Kingdom).

Documents and Information Papers for the three meetings are now available for public perusal online on this website (saving for a few which are password-protected for delegates and for which only their abstracts have been made public).  The Advisory Committee will consider any proposals brought forward by Parties to list new species within the Agreement.  Reports on current work programmes and those proposed for the next triennium for both Advisory Committee and Secretariat will also be dscussed.

The committee will also discuss where ACAP will next meet, with the Fifth Session of its Meeting of the Parties due to be held in 2015.

Chatham Albatross, photograph by Matt Charteris

ACAP’s Information Officer will be attending the meetings in support of the Secretariat’s Executive Secretary and Science Officer.  From tomorrow look for daily postings to ACAP Latest News on activities and progress made by ACAP in Punta del Este.

Click here to access the report of the Seventh Meeting of ACAP’s Advisory Committee, held in La Rochelle, France in May 2013.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 07 September 2014

Burrowing shearwaters and diving petrels as ecosystem engineers on New Zealand islands

Melody Durrett (Institute of Arctic Biology and Department of Biology and Wildlife, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska, USA) and colleagues write in the journal Plant and Soil on how burrowing seabirds (Flesh-footed shearwaters Puffinus carneipes, Fluttering Shearwaters P. gavia, Grey-faced Petrels Pterodroma macroptera gouldi and Common Diving Petrels Pelecanoides urinatrixstructure soil and plant patterns.

The paper’s abstract follows:


This study investigates how burrow-nesting, colonial seabirds structure the spatial patterns of soil and plant properties (including soil and leaf N) and tests whether burrow density drives these spatial patterns within each of six individual islands that vary greatly in burrow density.


Within individual islands, we compared semivariograms (SVs) with and without burrows as a spatial trend.  We also used SVs to describe and compare the spatial patterns among islands for each of 16 soil and plant variables.


Burrow density within a single island was only important in determining spatial structuring in one-fifth of the island-variable combinations tested.  Among islands, some variables (i.e., soil pH, δ15N, and compaction; microbial biomass and activity) achieved peak spatial variance on intermediate-density islands, while others (i.e., net ammonification, net nitrification, NH4 +, NO3 -) became increasingly variable on densely burrowed islands.


Burrow density at the within-island scale was far less important than expected.  Seabirds and other ecosystem engineers whose activities (e.g., nutrient subsidies, soil disturbance) influence multiple spatial scales can increase spatial heterogeneity even at high densities, inconsistent with a “hump-shaped” relationship between resource availability and heterogeneity.

Fluttering Shearwater in its burrow, photograph by Shane Cotter


Durrett, M.S., Wardle, D.A., Mulder, C.P.H. & Barry, R.P. 2014.  Seabirds as agents of spatial heterogeneity on New Zealand’s offshore islands.  Plant and Soil DOI 10.1007/s11104-014-2172-z.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 06 September 2015

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