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Albatross Agreement

South African ratification gives new hope to threatened albatross species…

Randburg, South Africa 14/11/03 - BirdLife International has welcomed the news that South Africa is the fifth country to ratify the global Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), guaranteeing its entry into force. ACAP is an essential step in halting continuing declines in the world`s 21 albatross species, all of which now face varying risks of extinction according to the recent BirdLife upgrading of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of globally threatened species.

[BirdLife`s latest research on albatross species, revealed in September, showed a further alarming decrease in the populations of six of the 21 albatross species, including one species previously regarded as safe: The threat status of six species has been significantly upgraded according to IUCN Red List categories and criteria for which BirdLife is the Listing Authority for birds. IUCN Red List categories are: Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild), Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild), Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild), Near Threatened (close to qualifying for Vulnerable) and Least Concern (species not qualifying for the other categories, including widespread and abundant species). BirdLife`s new evaluation of albatross species will be included in the 2003 IUCN Red List released next week. See http://iucn.org/themes/ssc/red-lists.htm. The six species are: Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, upgraded from Near Threatened in 2000 to Endangered in 2003; Black-browed Albatross, listed as Near Threatened in 2000 and Vulnerable in 2002, now becomes Endangered; Black-footed Albatross, listed as Vulnerable in 2000, is now Endangered; Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, listed as Vulnerable in 2000, is now Endangered; Laysan Albatross, listed as Least Concern in 2000, is now Vulnerable; Sooty Albatross, listed as Vulnerable in 2000, is now Endangered (2003).]Australia, Ecuador, New Zealand and Spain had already ratified ACAP. South Africa`s ratification now means that the agreement will enter into force on 1 February 2004. ACAP requires signatory states to take specific measures to reduce seabird by-catch from long-lining, shown in BirdLife`s research to be the prime factor responsible for relentless population declines in the majority of albatross species and related seabirds. It also requires signatory states to develop a wide-ranging Action Plan to tackle not just the threat of long-line fishing but also eradication at breeding sites of introduced species such as rats and feral cats, reduction of disturbance and habitat loss and reduction of marine pollution.

South Africa`s waters are home to important populations of four species of albatross, the Vulnerable Wandering Albatross and Grey-headed Albatross and the Endangered Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Sooty Albatross. BirdLife recently upgraded the conservation status of the latter two species with declines being more serious than previously thought. The Yellow-nosed Albatross is showing declines of more than 50% over 3 generations (71 years); with the disease avian cholera strongly implicated in this decline, while the Sooty Albatross is now declining by more than 75% over 3 generations (90 years).Every year long-lining kills more than 300,000 birds including 100,000 albatrosses, either by drowning or dying of their injuries on baited hooks carried on fishing lines up to 80 miles (130 km) long. Conservation of highly migratory species such as albatrosses and petrels cannot be achieved by one country acting independently of other nations that share the same species, which is why BirdLife sees ACAP as vital for the continued survival of albatrosses and petrels.

BirdLife now urges the UK, including its Overseas Territories of the Falklands, South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha which hold major populations of some of the most threatened albatrosses to now ratify the treaty without delay, as well as France, Brazil, Chile and Peru. French-governed Amsterdam Island is home to the most threatened albatross species, the Amsterdam Albatross, classified as Critically Endangered and threatened by disease, with the population now reduced to some 20 pairs breeding annually and suffering increasing chick mortality.

Birdlife South Africa is delighted at South Africa`s signing of ACAP which is an invaluable first step on the road to saving threatened albatrosses and petrels, says Aldo Berruti, Director of BirdLife South Africa.

With many albatrosses sliding towards extinction, ACAP`s entry into force comes not a moment too soon, comments Euan Dunn, Head of the Marine Unit for the UK BirdLife Partner, RSPB. The treaty`s strength is that it is legally binding on signatory states, so they will have to take firm measures to get seabirds off the hook. It is now vital for the UK to ratify in time for the first Meeting of the Parties in 2004 to develop ACAP, and to get their crucially important Overseas Territories to ratify in time too.For the last five years, BirdLife`s Save the Albatross campaign has aimed to reduce the number of seabird deaths caused by the longlining fishing industry to a sustainable level and to ensure that all relevant parties ratify ACAP. BirdLife`s New Zealand partner, Forest and Bird, has set up a worldwide online petition urging fishing nations to stamp out pirate longline fishing.

With the support of BirdLife`s campaign, one of Britain`s most experienced sailors, John Ridgway, who rowed the North Atlantic with round-the-world yachtsman Chay Blyth in 1966, recently left South Africa on his year-long expedition by yacht to draw international attention to illegal fishing operations and campaign for stricter action against them. The Cape Town to Melbourne leg of Ridgway`s expedition will be highlighting the predicament of the Wandering Albatross.

For further information, please contact Aldo Berruti at BirdLife South Africa: tel. +27 (0)11-789 1122; info@birdlife.org.za or Gareth Gardiner-Jones at BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK: tel. +44 (0)1223 279903; 07779 018 332 (mobile); gareth.gardiner@birdlife.org.uk

4th July 2014