Good news! A recent report shows a healthy increase in the numbers of black-browed albatrosses breeding in UK Overseas Territory, the Falkland Islands.
The report, by Dr Anton Wolfaardt, has been submitted to the Environment Committee of the Falkland Islands Government.
The black-browed albatross is currently endangered. With more than two-thirds of the global population breeding in the Falkland Islands, the status of this population has significant bearing on the global conservation status of the species.
Since the formation of the Albatross Task Force in 2005, there have been dramatic reductions in the numbers of albatrosses and other seabirds killed.
Working aboard a hake longliner in Namibia is a tough life for everyone aboard. The hours are long and gruelling. I would say longline crew are amongst the hardest working people in Namibia and always battling against difficult sea conditions. I have just spent the last two weeks on board to compare the traditional concrete weights used in this fishery with 5 kg steel weights, to demonstrate how denser weights can help reduce seabird bycatch.
These vessels set up to 22 miles of line at a time, either as a single long line or two parallel shorter lines, with about 27,000 baited hooks deployed per day. Line setting operations commence anytime between 03:00 to 05:00 hours and finish at around 07:00 to 07:30 hours. This allows time for a quick breakfast and a couple of hours sleep before starting to haul the line at around 10:30. The hauling operation continues from 10:30 to around midnight. This process is repeated every day for the duration of the trip. The vessels usually dock to unload their catch early in the morning and sail again the following afternoon.
The image below shows the crew hard at work, setting our steel weights from the aft deck
My tasks aboard are to observe the line set and deploy Time Depth Recorders (TDR’s), which provide data on how fast the gear sinks out of the reach of foraging seabirds. I also record any bird interactions as they attempt to take baited hooks at the water surface. I then observe the line retrieval to count and record any bird mortality and where exactly on the line they are caught in relation to line weighting.
I am planning on doing five trips in total, but so far the first two trips have shown some positive results for the heavier steel weights.
It is now mid-winter in Namibia which means that the birds are congregating in the over-wintering feeding grounds looking for any food they can find. Of course a fishing vessel provides easy pickings for hungry birds. We were at-sea over the full moon period which improves night visibility making it easier for the night foraging White-chinned petrels to see the baits as they are set behind the longliner. This is the most dangerous period in terms of seabird bycatch.
Over the two trips 194 nautical miles of line was set with a total of 228,000 hooks. The really sad part of all this was that 92 birds were hooked and drowned. That is the reality of what happens when vessels fish without mitigation measures such as bird-scaring lines and appropriate line-weighting. However, my results show bycatch is greatly reduced by using the 5 kg steel weights.
The image below shows White-chinned petrels in the hauling bay. these birds were caught on the line where concrete weights were in use
Conducting this experimental work is critical to convincing the skipper and crew of the efficiency of best practice mitigation measures. My observations on where the birds are being caught in relation to line weighting are vital to this process. Using the TDRs means we can also identify the sink rate of fishing gear and therefore define the area behind the vessel that must be protected with a bird-scaring line.
It is hard to watch birds being pulled up dead on a fishing line. However, the skipper and crew now see the difference that good line weighting can make and are all very positive about the results. Other longline skippers have been on the radio daily asking about the weights and how they work.
By the time I finish another two or three trips we will have a really strong case for implementing bird-scaring lines and improved line weighting in combination with night setting as the best practice suite of mitigation measures for this fishery. We are confident that this combination will dramatically reduce seabird bycatch.
This month I thought it would be a good idea to follow on from one of my Brazilian colleague’s diaries which highlighted the poor attitude of some fishermen towards seabirds.
His diary can be found here, as a reminder of the problem.
I have only ever seen one or two birds with broken bills while out at sea in Cape Town (as Dimas showed in his diary). But towards the middle of 2011 we started receiving many reports from various sources that fishermen were harming seabirds whilst at-sea. We had some alarming reports of mistreatment. Many of the reports actually related to the recreational fishing sector, which is the general public fishing from privately owned vessels on weekends or during angling competitions. We started to do a bit of investigating and it seemed that most people had no idea of how to handle birds. It seemed appropriate that we provide some guidance to improve the situation.
We started by sending letters to many of the fishing clubs in the area just highlighting the issue and offering to give demonstrations on how to safely handle seabirds. We also gently reminded them that it was actually illegal according to the South African Sea Birds and Seals Protection Act of 1973. Many of the clubs responded favourably and immediately informed their members – we even had clubs from other parts of the country contacting us as the message passed on by word of mouth.
We then had the idea of creating a cartoon which could be easily understood by people with different languages, operating in different fisheries and with different levels of education, outlining the safest methods to release seabirds for both people and the birds. This had a massive impact – we spread this through electronic forums, clubs, nature organisations and volunteers who were willing to drop some copies off in the local harbours. Somehow the message even got as far afield as the Falklands Islands, where an offer came to have the small amount of accompanying text translated into Spanish!
We continue to drop these off when conducting our harbour visits or when doing one of our sea trips ...but since then we have not received any more complaints...but continue to keep an eye out as our work continues! We can see that by giving the fishermen the correct tools we can all win!
Hi everybody! I'm writing to share a curiosity about working at-sea: we often see more than just seabirds out on the open ocean. There are many reports from captains and crew about passerine and coastal birds that are swept out to sea on strong winds and land on passing vessels over one hundred miles from the coast. Some captains have cages and bird food on board, and if some passerine appears, they help the little bird to recover, bring it to land, and release it. Since the first time I saw a land bird at sea, on board the oceanographic vessel Atlantico Sul, from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande-FURG, I have taken note of these bizarre encounters. Over seven at-sea trips on board oceanographic and fishing vessels, from 2009 to today, I have recorded 18 different species of land birds, adding up to 48 individuals. Of these, 20 were cattle egrets, in general flying high, in small flocks. Others include flycatchers, seed-eaters, finches, blackbirds, meadowlarks, thrushes, pigeons, swallows and nightjars.
Below, a female Saffron finch sits out rought weather on some deck netting.
Once, in October 2009, during a scientific survey aboard the oceanographic vessel Atlantico Sul, I saw 17 individuals of nine different species of land bird all on the same day. All these birds landed on the ship, clearly exhausted, during bad weather with strong offshore winds. Seven of the passerines belonged to three species of temperate-tropical migrant flycatchers, which breed in temperate zones of South America during the spring-summer and migrate to warmer, humid regions during autumn. These birds, flying high during their migration could be more exposed to strong winds, and October coincides with the arrival of these species to the temperate region. During the day I found the birds I thought: If in this afternoon 17 individuals reached the vessel I was on, 110 miles from the coast, how many birds must have been blown out to sea?
Below, a Tropical kingbird clutches to a support cable.
The species most frequently observed is the Cattle Egrets, which is the only one I’ve seen flying high at-sea. These species are originally from Africa, but over the last century they have colonized all continents (except the Antarctica). The Cattle Egret are strongly associated with large mammals, because they feed on terrestrial arthropods and small vertebrates that are flushed out by the large herbivores as they wander and graze. After the extensive introduction of cattle grazing worldwide, all continents became a suitable place for the Cattle Egret, and these at-sea encounters corroborates the amazing dispersive capability of this species.
Below, cattle egrets fly high above the vessel far out to sea.
Seeing so many land species at-sea, blown off course by strong winds, makes me appreciate the phenomenon of dispersal including the transfer of energy from land to sea; the process of colonization of oceanic islands; and the possible contribution of ships and others vessels to the range expansion of land birds and introduction of alien species.
For these exhausted birds wandering over unfamiliar seas, a ride on a fishing vessel is a great opportunity for survival, especially if they encounter one with a gentle crew that provide shelter, water and food!
During our work we quite often get the opportunity do something completely different! One such day was towards the end of last year...the 11 November 2011...or more commonly known as 11.11.11.
On this day, students, filmmakers, NGOs and the general public across the globe had a 24 hour period in which to record the ‘human experience’ and contribute to an annual global day of creating media called One Day on Earth. One Day on Earth was founded in 2008 but it was only on 10.10.10 that there was the first ever simultaneous filming event occurring in every country of the world.
The short films highlight the amazing diversity of the world, the impact humans have (good and bad) and any other aspect of human existence on earth that the filmmakers want to capture. All short films can be found on www.onedayonearth.org. During 2010 more than 19 000 filmmakers, submitted 3 000 hours of footage from 160 countries. This footage was then collaborated to create a feature film which was released on 22 April 2012 – Earth Day.
I was incredibly lucky to be able to become involved in this initiative during 2011 when Green Renaissance contacted me to be the central figure in their short piece. Green Renaissance (part of African Renaissance Productions) is a South African production company that focuses on creating environmentally specific media for businesses. They wanted to create a short piece showcasing humans and birds existence together, while giving BirdLife South Africa and the Albatross Task Force some exposure. The message they wanted to get across was that humans should do nothing more than live together with nature and our earth, having no negative impact.
The team, consisting of only 3 people: a cameraman, a director and a producer, managed to create a short film from start to finish in 11 hours on 11.11.11! We were up bright and early before the sun came up and went to a coastal area among a flock of sea gulls (not exactly albatross but the best we could do on the day!). The majority of the filming was done as the sun was coming up, overlooking cliffs or walking on the beach. It was an amazing experience and an initiative I would definitely become involved with again!
The images above and below were taken as part of the filming last year. Photos by Green Renaissance.