Thousands of albatrosses die needlessly every year as the victims of longling fishing. They are attracted to the baited hooks, get caught and are dragged under the water and drown.
Fishermen are often unaware of the simple, cost effective techniques that when used rapidly reduce albatross deaths.
In 2005, along with a number of our BirdLife International partners, the Albatross Task Force was formed. These men and women are the world's first international team of skilled, at-sea instructors.
Since their formation, there have been a dramatic reduction in the numbers of albatross and other seabirds killed. This is a sure sign that Albatross Task Force members really are getting something practical done to help save albatrosses from extinction.
This blog follows the trials and tribulations of the Albatross Task Force as they work onshore and at sea, spreading the message about these life-saving techniques.
Today I just want to pay tribute to my lifelong hero and role model Tata Nelson Mandela. His death really struck a chord in my heart that was never struck before. I guess it is true what they say when they say ‘you never know what you have until it is gone’. His death has sturred up emotions in me I never knew I had, it moved me in ways I have never been moved. In all honesty I just couldn’t hold back the litres of tears that filled my eyes. I was out onboard one of the local trawl vessels when I heard the news on the vessel radio and screened on the television. That night I had a sleepless night as I was coming to terms with the loss of this great giant of our nation (South Africa).
Tata Mandela means different things to different people. To me he is the personification of hope. He is signifies the hope that we should always strive for in humanity. To me he is the man who freed the prisoner and the prison guard. I have drawn many life lessons from his life but the most significant one was to never give up.
I want to apply the lessons I observed from him to my own life but not just to my life but also to my job as a member of the Albatross Task Force. I want to continue his legacy by extending on his legacy in my own style. I want to continue his legacy of hope and never giving up fighting for seabirds. I will walk the walk for freeing seabirds.
Today's blog is from Luis Cabezas, ATF team leader in Chile who explains some of the challenges faced this year with the small-scale fishing fleet in Chile.
Amongst the challenges ATF Chile faced in 2013 was developing a preliminary understanding of how the artisanal or small scale fleet interacts with seabirds, particularly the net fisheries. In Chile, the small-scale fleet is dominated by purse-seine vessels that target small pelagic fish like sardines and anchovy and gillnet vessels, which target a wide variety of species.
Artisanal vessels are recognised as those with a total length under 18 m. The majority of these vessels remain at sea for limited periods of time and generally have a small crew. The purse-seine vessels typically carry 10 to 12 people, while gillnet boats only carry two to four crew. Because of these size and capacity limitations, artisanal vessels rarely work beyond 5 nautical miles offshore.
In poor weather conditions, with rolling swells and strong winds it is simply not safe for these vessels to operate. As the south of Chile has frequent weather systems hitting the west coast from the Pacific, the Chilean port authorities maintain strict controls and will keep ports closed to small boats until conditions are considered calm enough. Rough weather therefore not only restricts artisanal fishermen from their work, but also prevents us from collecting the data we need.
2013 has been characterised by repeated rough weather up the Pacific coast, and we have been able to conduct a limited number of trips, which is extremely frustrating for the team. While poor sea conditions were the main problem this year, another factor also caused difficulties. Low catches of sardine and anchovy have resulted in fishery closures leading to further social conflicts between industrial and artisanal sectors in the central-southern regions of Chile.
We have seen different sides of the dispute as in previous years we worked aboard industrial vessels, which are able to brave all but the worst of sea conditions. It is a complex situation to deal with as the fishery resources are scarce despite being one of the most productive marine systems on the planet. Overfishing in the past and new regulations have created tough conditions for the artisanal sector in Chile.
With the weather and fisheries conflicts causing real grief throughout the winter, it was with great enthusiasm and cheer that the austral winter gave way to the calmer spring and summer months! As we move into full summer we are now generating the vessel time we need and are happily back into full swing.
Below: Interactions between purse-seine vessels and pelicans. These birds were released unharmed. Photo by Luis Cabezas.
Having spent close to three months on Nightingale and then Tristan da Cunha Islands last year I was struck by the incredible seabird diversity on the uninhabited and much smaller island of Nightingale. As many as 13 different seabird species breed on the 3 square kilometre volcanic island with a highest point of 400 m above sea level.
Not too far away is the massive island of Tristan at over 200 square kilometres in size and a highest elevation of 2000 m above sea level yet almost no seabirds breed there except for the ubiquitous Yellow-nosed and Sooty Albatrosses. Tristan is inhabited and has rats. Nightingale is uninhabited and has no mice or rats. Most of us are aware of the damage done by mice on Gough Island. It is therefore vitally important that Nightingale and Inaccessible remain rat and mice free islands. What these islands show is the harsh reality of one system in an almost pristine state (Nightingale) compared to another that has undergone so many significant changes and impacts (Tristan) that it may never return to any near its original state of affairs.
Nightingale may seem small but it has as many as 3 million pairs of Great Shearwaters alone that breed there every year. Add to this 100 000 Broad-billed Prions and a few thousand pairs of the Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and one immediately realises the significance of the island from a seabird conservation perspective. Possibly of most importance is the largest Northern Rockhopper Penguin colony in the world that can also be found there.
Nightingale provides us with some insight into what Tristan may well have been like before humans settled. The size of Tristan and the massive change in altitude from the coast to the highest point would suggest that almost every species of seabird that breeds in the Southern Atlantic on Gough, Nightingale and Inaccessible may well have occurred and bred on Tristan historically. Of course the critically endangered Tristan Albatross is just one example of a species that is extinct on the island and currently Atlantic Petrel breeds only in very low numbers!
I for one hope that if I have the privilege of ever visiting Nightingale again that the many thousands of seabirds will still be there without the significant risk of predation by introduced mammals such as mice and rats that have devastated so many island species communities around the globe.
To illustrate the impact of rats I have added a link below to a recently published video of a Black Rat feeding on a Scopoli’s Shearwater chick courtesy of Francesco Di Pietro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0BeiWJeOPo The footage is taken from Pianosa Island (Tuscan Archipelago, Italy).
Below: Soft plumaged Petrel on Nightingale Island