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South Georgia Sounds Warning

New Research Reveals Alarming Albatross Decline

New research from South Georgia reveals that three species of albatross nesting on the islands have declined at an alarming rate over the past 30 years and unless these declines can be halted or reversed the islands’ albatrosses could face extinction.

This research shows that the islands, a UK Overseas Territory, have lost nearly one third of their wandering albatross population since 1984 and that two other species breeding at South Georgia – the black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses – are also suffering similar rates of decline.

In common with other albatrosses around the world, the major threat seems to be longline fishing. Research from the RSPB and BirdLife International – who are currently running a global Save the Albatross campaign - suggests that up to 100,000 albatrosses annually – or one bird every five minutes – drown on the end of a longline fishing hook as they try to snatch bait.Sally Poncet, of South Georgia Surveys and the report’s lead author, said: “It is well known that albatrosses world-wide are dying needlessly in long-line fisheries. Our survey has shown that South Georgia’s albatrosses, in particular, are being pushed to the point where three species are threatened with extinction.”

Dr Phil Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at the British Antarctic Survey and a co-author on the report, said: “Our long-term research shows birds are most likely caught thousands of miles away from their breeding grounds. BAS scientists provide important advice to CCAMLR - the fishery management organisation that regulates fishing activity around South Georgia and elsewhere in the Southern Ocean.

However, when birds feed beyond CCAMLR waters, especially off South Africa and South America, they are at greater risk and it is therefore important that bodies regulating these waters make them safe for albatrosses.”
Dr Ben Sullivan, of the RSPB, said: “The decline of albatrosses on South Georgia mirrors declines from other South Atlantic UK Overseas Territories, especially the Falkland Islands. With one third of the world’s albatrosses nesting on a UK overseas territory, we have a colossal responsibility for these birds. Worryingly, it appears that South Atlantic albatrosses are among the hardest hit populations in the world and without action these birds will have a perilous future.”

As part of the Save the Albatross campaign, the RSPB and BirdLife recently launched the Albatross Task Force, a practical project to reduce the number of seabirds killed on longline hooks. Specially-trained task force members are working at sea helping long-line fishermen to adopt simple and proven measures, such as setting streamer lines adjacent to the longlines to prevent birds becoming hooked.

Dr Ben Sullivan, added: shermen would far rather catch fish than seabirds and the Albatross Task Force offers a real opportunity to help them achieve this.”

Visit http://www.savethealbatross.net for more information.

4th July 2014