Conservation Status for Southern Giant Petrel


The Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus is the only species listed within the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) that breeds on the Antarctic Continent and associated islands south of 60°S. This area is covered by the Antarctic Treaty. Because the treaty has “frozen” all territorial claims to the continent, conservation of the species this far south falls within the remit of the Treaty and its Protocol on Environmental Protection. Annex II of the Protocol deals with the conservation of Antarctic flora and fauna and allows for species to be designated as Specially Protected Species, although no method for determining what grounds such species should be selected was defined. They “shall be accorded special protection” by participating governments (i.e. Parties to the Protocol). Such protection would extend to not issuing permits for taking or harmfully interfering with a designated species, unless there was a “compelling scientific purpose.

For several years, annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCMs) and associated meetings of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) have been discussing the merits of placing the selection of Specially Protected Species on a more scientific basis. The process commenced in 1999 when the United Kingdom proposed that the existing list of Specially Protected Species in Annex II of the Protocol be reviewed by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). SCAR agreed to undertake this work and started by gaining agreement first on the criteria for selection (the World Conservation Union (IUCN) category-of-threat criteria), and then on a process within the CEP for assessing the scientific information provided by SCAR. It was decided to commence this process with birds and seals using the IUCN global threatened categories as the first step, and that the assessment of a species as Vulnerable or a higher risk of extinction should be the level at which Specially Protected Species status should be considered. SCAR submitted a proposal to the 29th ATCM, held in Edinburgh, Scotland in June 2006, that the Southern Giant Petrel be added to Annex II of the Protocol on Environmental Protection as a Specially Protected Species (Working Paper No. 38,, bases on an assessment by IUCN and BirdLife international that its global status was Vulnerable.

However, at the Edinburgh meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection, SCAR reported on a recently announced increase in census numbers of Southern Giant Petrels from outside the Antarctic Continent which cast doubt on the status of the species as Vulnerable. SCAR based its revised advice on a survey of the numbers of Southern Giant Petrels breeding on islands in the south-west Atlantic in 2005/06, which revealed a much larger population than was previously estimated. This has caused BirdLife International to reconsider the global conservation status of the species, and on-going discussions on BirdLife’s Globally Threatened Birds Forum will assist in determining whether it should be down-listed from Vulnerable to Near Threatened. As a consequence SCAR has been asked to liaise with Birdlife International over the planned reassessment and to submit a revised proposal and a draft action plan to the 30th ATCM, to be held in 2007, considering this time the results at a regional level.

At the request of SCAR, a workshop had been held in Cambridge, UK in March 2005 to assess the status of regional populations of all Antarctic seabirds against IUCN category-of-threat criteria as an objective way of identifying suitable candidates for Specially Protected Species status. The workshop was jointly organized by SCAR, led by its Group of Experts on Birds, BirdLife International and IUCN. The workshop considered that the Southern Giant Petrel was Critically Endangered within the Antarctic Continent. This assessment was based on an overall declining population (90% over three generations) at Antarctic breeding sites, and an apparent lack of interchange between populations breeding south and north of the Antarctic Polar Front.

To deal with the problem until the following year, the Edinburgh ATCM passed Resolution 4 (2006) which recommends that all governments and non-governmental activities in Antarctica should be planned so as to avoid negative impacts on Southern Giant Petrels, in particular in breeding colonies of this species.

Both processes affecting the Southern Giant Petrel (the BirdLife International reassessment and the ATCM’s consideration of Specially Protected Species status) are relevant to the aims and objectives of ACAP. The close links between ACAP, SCAR and BirdLife International (both the last two bodies have observer status on ACAP’s Advisory Committee and Meetings of Parties) should aid in improving the conservation status of the Antarctic populations of Southern Giant Petrels: ACAP’s most southerly breeding species.

News by John Cooper, Vice-Chair, ACAP Advisory Committee, with the valued assistance of Stephen Powell, Ben Sullivan, David Walton and Eric Woehler (see also (

Posted 7 August 2006

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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