UK launches plan to save South Atlantic albatrosses

Posted: 30 September 2006

A newly published report calls for urgent action to prevent further declines in the fast dwindling populations of albatrosses and petrels in the South Atlantic - for which the UK has a leading responsibility.

One third of the world's albatrosses nest on three of its Overseas Territories (Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha), but numbers in this region are dwindling faster than anywhere else.

Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross, Falkland Islands. Photo credit: Grahame Madge/RSPB
Grant Munro, Chief Executive of Falklands Conservation, said: "Results from the latest albatross census in the Falkland Islands show that the islands' black-browed albatross population has declined by more than 18 pairs every day over the last ten years, a fact leading to its listing as an Endangered species. This report comes at a crucial time to save this magnificent bird and it pulls together international efforts to protect them across the southern oceans."

Action plan

An international workshop organised by Falklands Conservation, held in the Falkland Islands earlier this year, brought together 35 experts and key players to discuss what steps and resources are necessary to implement an effective rescue plan. The meeting formed part of the Falkland Islands Albatross and Petrel Programme and focused on the responsibilities and obligations of Parties to the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels (ACAP), of which the UK is a signatory along with each relevant Overseas Territory.

Sir David Attenborough, a Vice-President of both Falklands Conservation and the RSPB, speaking in support of BirdLife International's Save the Albatross Campaign in October 2005, said: "The chance of an individual albatross surviving to old age now seems as remote as the ability of many albatross species to exist beyond the end of this century."

Decision makers, particularly in the UK and Overseas Territory Governments, are now being presented with a list of tasks to address to save albatrosses on UK Territories. These include co-operation between nations and organisations to implement effective fishery mitigation measures - commercial fishing is the single most damaging influence on these seabird populations.

With the right action, impact can be minimised. The report provides a model for all key areas of the world to emulate in their efforts to protect seabirds.

Dr Michael Rands, Director of BirdLife International, said: "The recommendations coming out of this meeting represent a breakthrough in the contribution the UK and its Overseas Territories can make in solving a very serious situation faced by seabirds in the South Atlantic. Of course, such wide-ranging proposals will not have the desired effect unless others sit up and take action. The major fishing nations, particularly from Asia, must also be committed to take the right steps to save these birds from extinction."

Funds essential

Altogether 118 recommendations are included in the detailed and authoritative report. Of particular importance are:

  • More effective engagement by the EC and UK (on behalf of its Overseas Territories) in Regional Fishery Management Organisations. These Organisations have the potential to regulate the environmental impact of fisheries including for seabird interactions.

  • Appointment of a dedicated person in UK to represent Overseas Territories on ACAP and fisheries issues, particularly the environmental aspects.

  • Establishment of an effective fishery protection regime for the Tristan da Cunha group.

  • Greater protection to be given for breeding sites, including extension to adjacent marine areas, via appropriately managed Marine Protected Areas.

  • Improved biosecurity measures to prevent introduction of pests and diseases including within island groups.
  • Programmes implemented to eradicate rodents from breeding sites.

  • Regular monitoring to be undertaken of population trends for all species at risk.
  • Investigation of the potential for extension of EU Birds and Habitats Directive to UK Overseas Territories.
  • It is also vital that the level of communications between the Territories and the UK is improved, and the report calls on the UK Government to fund a post based in the territories to undertake a key co-ordination and implementation role. Without this, there is little hope that the necessary steps to save these magnificent seabirds in the UK Territories of the far south will be successful.

An agreed, fully funded, action plan, incorporating all the recommendations, is now needed to ensure that the UK and its Overseas Territories meet their obligations to protect albatrosses and petrels, says RSPB. There are major issues to address not least the costs, which are far beyond the very limited resources of these small countries.

Alistair Gammell, director of the RSPB's International Division, said: "The level of support shown by the UK Government to this Report will be a clear indication of its commitment to protecting the exceptional biodiversity of its Overseas Territories and, in this case, arguably their most spectacular and iconic inhabitants.

"Will the UK Government let albatrosses become extinct, or will it take action necessary to give them a future?"

Source: RSPB, September 25, 2006

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