The albatross moves another step nearer survival

Posted: 2 October 2008

The endangred albatross took another step nearer rescue last week when President Bush transmitted The Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) to the US Senate for approval.

ACAP is an international treaty between fishing nations for these seabirds, many of which are threatened with extinction due to poor fishing practices, pollution, and invasive species on their breeding islands. Member countries agree to take actions necessary to conserve these birds.

Wandering Albatross (<em>Diomedea exulans</em>). Photo: Tony Palliser
Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans). Photo: Tony Palliser
The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) is listed as Vulnerable. All 21 species of albatross are now identified as globally under threat (compared to just three in 1996 and 16 in 2000). All are undergoing long-term declines, with significant numbers drowning after being caught accidentally on baited hooks set by longline fisheries.© Tony Palliser
"Seabirds are among the most magnificent and most threatened birds on earth, yet are often overlooked," said Dr. George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy. "We applaud the President for extending his support of migratory birds to this vulnerable group."

The Senate Foreign Relations committee must now approve the treaty before it goes to the full Senate for ratification, which requires a two-thirds majority. An accompanying legislative package to implement the agreement will also need to be approved by both the House and Senate. Votes on the treaty and implementing legislation are not expected until next year.

Survival chance

"Albatrosses and petrels are facing growing threats, but if we move quickly on the provisions contained in this treaty, they stand a better chance of survival," said Betsy Loyless, Audubon's Senior Vice President for Policy. "We strongly urge the Senate to approve the treaty as quickly as possible."

Eleven countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom) have now signed and ratified the treaty, which went into effect in 2001. Brazil and Uruguay have both passed national legislation to enable their countries to become Parties to the Agreement. Their membership will follow 3 months after submission of their instruments of ratification and accession to the Agreement Depository, in Canberra, Australia.

The United States is already in compliance with the provisions of the treaty, but US participation offers an important opportunity to engage other countries in the protection of seabirds when they range outside of US waters. Doing so will help level the playing field for American fishermen, who must currently observe US regulations that are far more stringent than the laws that govern the actions of many of their foreign competitors.

"By joining the Agreement, the United States would send a clear message to the international community of its resolve to prevent the extinction of albatrosses and petrels and in particular to achieve and maintain a favourable conservation status for those species listed under the Agreement." said Warren Papworth, ACAP Executive Secretary.

Streamers to protect albatrosses
Streamers to protect albatrosses
Streamer lines protect birds by scaring them away from the hooks. Photo © Birdlife International/Jim Enticott
Ten out of the 22 albatross species are Critically Endangered or Endangered, and another eight are considered to be Vulnerable to Extinction, according to the IUCN-World Conservation Union. The most important threats to these species are accidental deaths in longline fishing gear, loss of eggs and chicks to introduced predators on breeding islands, and exposure to contaminants and floating plastic trash, which the birds accidentally consume. Solving these problems requires coordinated efforts by governments, scientists, fishermen, and conservation organizations.

"Migratory species such as seabirds cannot be protected by the actions of one country alone", added Jessica Hardesty, American Bird Conservancy's Seabird Program Coordinator. "International coordination, such as that offered by ACAP, is the only way to ensure that our future generations will also be able to enjoy these birds."

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Related links:

New hope for the albatross

Trawlers found to be new threat to albatross survival

Factfile: Endangered treasures