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The threats

Many seabird populations are rapidly declining and threatened with extinction.

Albatrosses face a number of threats both on land and at sea, some of which we've highlighted below.

Longlining

By far the biggest threat faced by an albatross is death on longline fishing hooks.

As the name suggests, this fishing technique involves very long lines of baited hooks - a single vessel may use a line extending for 80 miles (130 km), from which can hang as many as 10-20,000 hooks, each baited with a piece of fish or squid.

Every year longliners set about three billion hooks, killing an estimated 300,000 seabirds every year, of which 100,000 are albatrosses.

There are two main methods of longlining, one used near the surface to catch fish species such as tuna, the other sets lines closer to the seabed.

The slaughter of seabirds takes place when the hooks are still visible near the sea's surface. Foraging birds spot them and try to grab the bait before it sinks. They are hooked, dragged under, and drowned.

When the line is pulled in, the dead bird is removed and discarded – a poor outcome for the fishermen, who would rather catch fish.

Trawling

View of trawl cables from the winches

Birds typically become entangled in the many cables associated with trawl fishing

Image: Peter Exley

Work pioneered by Falklands Conservation showed significant numbers of seabirds were being killed in trawl fisheries, either by entanglement in nets, or collisions with cables. Evidence suggests more birds are killed by the cables.

This work led to the identification of similar problems around New Zealand, southern Africa and South America.

Data collected in 2006 showed that in one year 12,000 albatrosses were killed in a single South African trawl fishery.

Pirate fishing

At its worst, pirate fishing is organised crime. Vessels plunder fish stocks with no regard for regulations, national sovereignty or bird protection, leaving devastation in their wake.

At the start of our Campaign, the number of vessels exploiting legal loopholes by operating under 'Flags of Convenience' (pirate fishing) was a major concern.

Many of these vessels targeted Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean, and were thought to account for about 30% of all albatrosses killed. However, the number of these vessels has dropped substantially in recent years thanks to catch certification schemes and more effective patrolling.

It has since became clear that large numbers of birds are being killed in legal fisheries, causing us to shift the focus of our work. We are now encouraging governments to take action and make these legal fisheries reduce their albatross bycatch.

However, ongoing government action to stamp out pirate fishing is still needed to stop many thousands of albatrosses from dying a horrible death.

Introduced predators

For the Tristan albatross of Gough Island, predation of chicks by introduced house mice is a huge problem. Coupled with adults being killed as fisheries bycatch, this species is heading for a serious decline in numbers if nothing is done.

Work to remove mice from Gough Island is ongoing, as are efforts to encourage breeding colonies on other, non-infested islands in the Tristan da Cunha group.

Albatrosses have survived in the harshest marine environments for 50 million years; more than 100 times longer than our own species. However, these magnificent birds are unable to cope with man-made threats, such as longline fishing.

Sir David Attenborough, broadcaster and naturalist

Plastic debris

Flotsam and jetsam, sea-borne litter, on the tideline

Clumped together on the ocean surface, plastic debris is often mistaken for food

Image: Andy Hay

Floating plastic debris - ranging from cigarette lighters to bath toys - is very much a problem for seabirds.

Under certain conditions, floating plastic will clump together. One such 'garbage patch' occurs in the North Pacific Ocean close to large albatross breeding sites in Hawaii.

Albatrosses frequently feed on dead squid and fish eggs that float on the sea's surface. Floating plastic objects are often mistaken for food and swallowed, causing blockages and reducing the amount of food that can be eaten.

Disease

Disease can have a devastating impact on species that are only found at one breeding location.

Amsterdam albatrosses are only found on Amsterdam Island, but they share their island home with several other species of seabird. Unfortunately, some of these birds carry avian cholera, which if passed onto any of the Amsterdam albatrosses poses a major threat to their future.

Climate change and freak weather events

It is difficult to predict the impact of climate change on albatross and petrel populations as even subtle shifts in the marine environment can result in major changes to where, and how much prey is available.

However, it is thought that the frequency and intensity of unusual weather events will increase in the future.

Freak waves have already had severe consequences for a number of albatross species. Not only are that year's chicks lost, but soil is removed affecting breeding areas, which in turn affects breeding success in following years.

Volcanic eruptions

By far the largest breeding colony of short-tailed albatross is on the island of Torishima, Japan, which happens to be an active volcano. Along with typhoons, volcanic eruptions are a constant threat to the colony.

With the aid of decoys and through the translocation of chicks, successful attempts have been made to establish new colonies in less vulnerable locations.

How you can help

Help us equip fishermen with specially-designed weights for fishing lines, to prevent albatrosses from being hooked and killed.

Keep an albatross off the hook

How you can help

Black browed Albatross, Falklands Islands

As a Friend of the Albatross, your regular donation will ensure that we have the funds to contiune the vital work of saving these graceful ocean wanderers.

Become a Friend of the Albatross