Working for birds in Africa

Stopping seabirds going under

Date posted: 
Monday, May 25, 2009

Even among disheartening conservation statistics, those for seabirds don’t look good. With devastating deaths and fishing bycatch indicated as a critical problem, 80% of marine bird species are in decline. Within seabirds, albatrosses and petrels are particularly at risk. They are slow-maturing and breed infrequently, raising only a single chick. “The loss of a few birds can have serious implications”, said Dr Ben Sullivan – BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme Coordinator.

The main cause of these birds’ demise is longline fishing. Boats cast fishing lines behind them - some over 100 km long with thousands of baited hooks. Birds swarm to the baits, get hooked and are subsequently drowned. “We estimated more than 100,000 albatrosses die each year”, warned Dr Sullivan.

Completing more of the knowledge of albatrosses’ and petrels’ movements is what it’s hoped new projects will achieve. For example, On Marion Island (South Africa) scientists from the British Antarctic Survey - in conjunction with the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and Marine and Coastal Management (South Africa) - are currently fitting Grey Petrel Procellaria cinerea with satellite tags. "The results of this tracking study will help to collect the first at-sea distribution data for this Near Threatened seabird", added Helen Booker.

In total, three albatross and five petrel species in the southern Indian and Atlantic Oceans will be tracked over the next two years. The species include Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata (Vulnerable), Sooty Albatross Phoebetria fusca and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche carteri (both Endangered).

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