Albatross Task Force instructor Meidad Goren observes while longline fishing gear is being deployed.

Emergence of marine champions

Albatross Task Force Programme Manager Oli Yates and Senior Policy Officer Rory Crawford reflect on the first 10 years of the Albatross Task Force.

The pressures on seabirds

Seabirds are threatened by a variety of pressures. Directly, through being caught on hooks in fisheries, invasive species at nest sites, ingestion of plastic waste, and oil or chemical pollution; plus indirectly via habitat degradation, competition with forage fisheries and climate change.

Our understanding of these individual impacts is improving, but their effects are largely unknown. What is known is that the world’s seabird populations are in bad shape. We need to tackle these threats head-on.

The good news is that seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries is preventable. Simple solutions already exist and the Albatross Task Force (ATF) has been successful in developing mitigation measures to reduce the number of seabirds being caught, or bycatch. These measures have been scaled up to achieve fleetwide reductions in seabird bycatch in South Africa, where the government has supported the adoption of regulations. Several more ATF priority fleets are close to achieving this milestone. Only by reaching and sustaining fleet-wide reduction targets can we hope to turn around the fortunes of threatened albatrosses.

ask Force instructor enjoying a lighter moment on board

The role our ATF instructors play

Clear heads are required to ensure sustainable bycatch reductions.

Therefore, the role of ATF instructors now combines working on board fishing vessels at sea, and advocating for regulations in governmental meetings. When the same individuals who perform the technical experiments at sea are able to present findings in the political arena, the message is powerful. It’s exactly this mix of sea legs and clear heads that is required to maintain sustainable bycatch reductions in the future.

Not everyone is able to do both. In fact it's a rare cocktail of personal traits that make an effective ATF instructor! Spending time at sea every year is exhausting, both mentally and physically, but our hope from the beginning was that some instructors would stay the course. We've been lucky, as whilst we've had to say farewell to some great and talented characters, several key members of staff have grown with the project.

On World Oceans Day last month, we celebrated the anniversary of the Albatross Task Force, a decade after the first team in South Africa was launched in 2006. Back then, there were no baseline bycatch estimates for any of our target fisheries, no best practice mitigation measure designs, no fishery regulations requiring these measures to be implemented and, in turn, zero uptake by skippers.

We have come a long way: we now have baseline estimates in all fisheries, best practice mitigation measures are well defined and regulations are in place in seven out of ten of our original target fisheries.

Black browed albatross

The future with ATF

The ATF model will help bring prospective industry partners on board.

That doesn’t mean the job is done. We still have to ensure all vessels in all fleets adopt mitigation measures and support national observer agencies to develop effective seabird bycatch monitoring. In recent years, we’ve also identified an additional six fleets that are affecting seabirds, particularly albatrosses.

Through the BirdLife International Marine Programme, we’re starting on the long road to develop effective measures for gill-net fisheries, which kill 400,000 seabirds per year, and purse seine fisheries, where we’re only just starting to understand bycatch levels. However, through the Task Force we are building on the foundations of successful collaborative work with industry and government to improve the fortunes of seabirds. Having the ATF model in place gives us a compelling story to tell to prospective industry partners in new fisheries, encouraging future collaborations.

Further, this experience has created opportunities to work toward tackling many of the other threats in the marine environment. Our ATF instructors are emerging Marine Champions in their countries, and provide a source of great hope for a more sustainable future for some astounding birds and the healthy habitats they rely on.

Thank you for all your support, and here’s to the next ten years of the Albatross Task Force.

 Albatross Task Force instructor Caio Azevedo who works in Brazil. Chatting to a fisherman advising on the best use of mitigation measures such as streamer lines

Save the albatross

Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys, in flight Southern Ocean nr South Georgia

Help us fund the global campaign to save the albatross. You'll help pay for tori lines, up to the minute data recording equipment and sea safety gear that will keep the men and women of the Task Force safe and able to do their job.