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UK black-browed albatross numbers on the up

Last modified: 25 July 2012

Black browed albatross

Image: David Tipling

A new report has indicated a healthy increase in the numbers of black-browed albatrosses breeding in the Falkland Islands, a UK Overseas Territory. 

The report, by Dr Anton Wolfaardt, Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) officer for the UK South Atlantic Overseas Territories and Joint Nature Conservation Committee has been submitted to the Environment Committee of the Falkland Islands Government.

The black-browed albatross is currently classified as Endangered. Over two-thirds of the global population breed in the Falkland Islands, so the status of this population has significant bearing on the global conservation status of the species.

In 2005, the RSPB and BirdLife International set up the Albatross Task Force (ATF), the world's first international team of skilled, at-sea instructors.  Since its formation, there have been dramatic reductions in the numbers of albatrosses and other seabirds killed.

Dr Cleo Small helps to coordinate BirdLife International’s Global Seabird Programme from its headquarters at the RSPB
. She said: “When 17 out of the world’s 22 species of albatross are listed as threatened with extinction, it is hugely encouraging that black-browed albatross colonies in the Falkland Islands are now known to be increasing. There is still some way to go, with the UK Overseas Territories’ other major black-browed albatross population on South Georgia continuing to decline, but this result gives us great hope for turning around the fortunes of other albatross species.

“By-catch in fisheries is the main threat, and efforts are underway in many longline and trawl fleets worldwide to reduce the number of albatrosses killed. If we can keep this up, there is real hope that the black-browed albatross will set a trend for the future.”

The report recommends that efforts to further improve seabird by-catch mitigation should continue, both to buffer the local population against possible future changes, and to improve the conservation status of other populations and species.

Falklands Conservation’s chief executive officer, James Fenton, said: “All recent surveys indicate the Falkland Islands’ population of black-browed albatrosses is increasing, which indicates the species is no longer endangered. As we host the largest population in the world this is especially good news.  The significant reduction in the number of birds caught as a by-catch of the fishing industry in recent years illustrates how wildlife conservation benefits from everyone working together.”

Dr Anton Wolfaardt, ACAP (Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels) officer for the UK South Atlantic Overseas Territories and author of the report said: “The exact reasons for the increase are not entirely clear, but efforts to reduce seabird by-catch, and beneficial feeding conditions, are likely to have contributed.” On the basis of the reported results, and the fact that the Falklands population comprises approximately 70% of the global total, the report recommends that consideration should be given to down-listing the species from Endangered.

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