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.
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
“Lights, camera, action” - that has been the highlight of my month as I was interviewed about the work of the Albatross Task Force and BirdLife in South Africa. I found out that being on television is no easy business. First you have to deal with the intensely bright lights, as bright as the midday summer Limpopo sun. Then you have this group of people who are intensely focused on you all the time and if you are self-conscious like me, it can be one of the most uncomfortable moments of your life.
Actually being on TV is like being on a blind date, you get scared and excited at the same time. And if that was not enough I had to try my level best to speak and explain our scientific work in my home language, Sepedi. This is easy when you speak about the weather and not so easy when you are speaking about the conservation of penguins and albatrosses!
To reach the youth and a broad group of people, they required that the television show had a mix of English and one of South Africa’s indigenous languages. The aim of the show is to showcase various careers within South Africa and tell young people of the skills required for various jobs.
The rest of filming went particularly well considering that it was organised at short notice and some of the sites we filmed at were confirmed last minute (due to the need for permits). The site I loved the most was the African Penguin colony at Stony Point (along the Cape Town coast, South Africa). The colony has around 5000 African Penguins. Seeing them waddle about on the beach was a great sight.
I just hope that in 50 years time I can still be able to see them waddling around in their natural environment. The other thing I loved about this site was the drive to Stony Point. It is a beautiful scenic drive along the coast (about 1.5 hours from Cape Town), with beautiful scenery of the ocean and some beautiful beach properties. At Stony Point the film crew filmed us performing penguin moult counts, with Mario Leshoro (expert on monitoring seabirds) explaining how and why they are done.
Below: African penguins at SToney Point, Cape Town
The next site we filmed at was the Ocean View Association for Persons with Disabilities (OVAPD), a local group who help build bird-scaring lines (BSLs). These are then sold to the fishing companies in South Africa to prevent seabirds becoming entangled in fishing gear. This is a wonderful community-based organisation, where I assist the team in building bird-scaring lines.
This was a great opportunity to inform the nation of South Africa about the work that the Seabird Division of BirdLife South Africa and the Albatross Task Force perform on a typical day. Hopefully this one small step for the ‘albatross’ will lead to giant leaps for ‘bird-kind’.
Below: Building bird-scaring (tori) lines at the Ocean View Association
The earth works as a system, any conservation effort from one environmental sector successfully aids in the preservation of another natural resource. Unfortunately, the same applies with regards to overexploitation.
I have been given the opportunity to work with the ATF in South Africa as part of a government intership grant and the above point was highlighted at a recent WWF-SA Groen Sebenza Interns Workshop Programme. It was a great opportunity to finally meet other young people who share the same vision as me in terms of conservation.
Through the introduction and talks, I got to know what drives the other interns and their career goals and objectives. I learnt about the various scope of work that they are doing in their institutions( WESSA, Nature Flower Valley, Maluti Water, Emanti Management etc.) in relation to the issues associated to water scarcity in South Africa and preservation of indigenous plant species e.g. Fynbos.
While we all seemed to differ in our fields of interests, e.g. Agriculture, Botany, Freshwater and Marine, we all shared a common goal for conservation. This allowed me to value my presence in the ATF team and, to use the opportunity granted to me as much as possible. I feel motivated and I now understand where I belong in terms of environmental conservation as an Albatross Task Force Intern. I also had an opportunity to share my passion for seabirds and the kind of work I am involved in with the ATF team in South Africa.
The overall take home message for me was that we all have a role to play in conservation and in order to make this a reality we all need to learn to co-exist.