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Not so ancient mariners

Race heads towards albatross hotspots

The seven yachts in the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race have now set sail for Australia, on a journey that will take them through some of the world’s greatest albatross hotspots.

The Prince Edward Islands are home to the first major albatross colonies that the race will come near to after leaving Cape Town. These islands, which belong to South Africa, are uninhabited, apart from scientific researchers. Marion Island, the larger, and Prince Edward Island are about 1,200 miles south-east of Cape Town.

The islands are home to thousands of pairs of breeding albatrosses. Most of them will have young on the nest and will be actively scouring the ocean for food, some travelling thousands of miles from their nests in a single journey.

Two of the species that breed here are classified as Endangered. The Sooty Albatross Phoebetria fusca breeds on both islands, and the 2,750 pairs represent half the Indian Ocean population and 21 per cent of the world population. The Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche carteri breeds on the smaller Prince Edward Island and the 6,000 pairs are 17 per cent of both Indian Ocean and world populations.The population of Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans on the islands (2,700 pairs) represent nearly half of the Indian Ocean breeding population, and the commonest species is the Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma, with 7,700 breeding pairs.

Tracking albatrosses, using radio-transmitters, has shown that the western part of the southern Indian Ocean is most used by feeding birds, with very few in the east. Breeding birds from islands further east and non-breeding birds from other colonies also feed in the same waters as the Prince Edward Islands’ birds. Grey-headed Albatrosses from South Georgia will roam that far, as will Shy Albatrosses Thalassarche cauta from Tasmania.

Good feeding areas for seabirds are likely to be good areas for fisheries, and the Volvo Ocean Race crews may well see fishing vessels in this area. Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese fishing fleets all undertake longline fishing for tuna in this region and there is a Patagonian toothfish fishery off Prince Edward Island. Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses are known to be caught by longline fisheries off both South Africa and Australia.

Visit the new Save the Albatross web site at http://www.savethealbatross.net

4th July 2014