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Anchovie Threat… Caribbean Note-taking & Vulture Chick Joy

Hold the anchovies - Magellanic Penguins need them

Rapid expansion of Argentina’s new anchovy fishery may threaten the world’s largest colony of Near Threatened Magellanic Penguins Spheniscus magellanicus at Punta Tombo, Patagonia. Anchovies make up more than 50 percent of the Magellanic Penguin’s diet.

A paper in Science reveals that the country’s plan to develop a small-scale trawler fishery for the 'under-exploited' anchovy includes no mechanism to quantify the impact on wildlife.

The anchovies are turned into fish meal, much of which goes to fish farms in China and Europe. Ten pounds of anchovy may be required to produce one pound of farmed fish. The value of the fishery is a fraction of the ecotourism revenues generated by the penguins and other 'charismatic megafauna' which depend on the anchovies and the larger fish that feed on them. Rising global demand for fish meal could fuel unsustainable anchovy fishery expansion on the Patagonian coast, the paper’s authors warn. They say anchovy populations are naturally variable, and long-lived predators like penguins, sea-elephants and sea-lions can ride over the scarce years -as long as good years follow bad.

But when bad years follow bad years, populations may be unable to bounce back. Nearly ten years after the severe El Nino of 1997-8, the Humboldt’s Penguin Spheniscus humboldti colony at Punta San Juan, Peru, previously 5000 strong, has reached just 2000 birds. Research into the causes of this failure to recover points to overfishing: Peru’s long-established anchovy fishery takes up to 85 percent of the anchovies in Peru’s waters, and studies by the World Bank and others indicate that the catch needs to be halved to provide a sustainable future for fisherman and wildlife.

Before any further expansion and investment takes place, the costs to other fisheries, risks to wildlife and ecotourism, and food web interactions need to be determined, the authors of the Science paper conclude. They add that to make informed decisions about the future management of the fishery, research into ecosystems and indicator species like the penguins is needed. Overfishing of anchovies in Peru poses a threat to other birds. A recent article in World Birdwatch magazine highlights the threat posed by overfishing to 'Guano Birds' like Guanay Cormorants Phalacrocorax bougainvillii, and Peruvian Boobies Sula variegata. Caribbean birdwatchers urged to submit their sightings

Past and present visitors to the Caribbean are being asked to dust off their notebooks and dig out their holiday bird sightings in a bid to increase knowledge and understanding of bird distribution and status in the Caribbean.

The Caribbean islands are renowned for their birds - over 560 different species occur there, 148 of which are found nowhere else on Earth - yet good information on abundance and distribution of these birds is still lacking for many of these species.

Conservationists within the BirdLife Caribbean Program are looking to the birdwatching world to help reverse this trend by submitting their sightings on Caribbean Birds, part of a global internet-based recording facility.Birdwatchers record an enormous number of birds but often their records end up ‘lost’, sitting in notebooks, lists or unpublished trip reports said David Wege, Caribbean Program Manager at BirdLife International. There are probably millions of records that fit into this category, many of them for countries, like those in the Caribbean, that have high bird diversity but lack proper systems for monitoring their numbers.

The Caribbean Birds initiative enables users to store and manage their own observations, extract reports and print or download maps. As well as contributing their own observations, visitors to the website can also view other people's records; a potentially important resource for a region that is popular with nature tourists keen on seeing the region’s numerous bird species.

With such a wealth of birds in the Caribbean every bit of information we can retrieve has the potential to make a difference in our conservation efforts commented Wege.Caribbean Birds is part of Worldbirds, a joint initiative by BirdLife International and two of its Partners, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and Audubon (BirdLife in the US). It links together existing and new internet-systems to collect and report on bird populations and movements in different countries around the world.Hopes soar after vulture chick hatches

One of the world’s most threatened birds has bred in captivity for the first time in India. The news has given scientists and conservationists further hope for saving Asia’s declining vulture populations.

The single chick, a White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, was hatched at a breeding centre in Pinjore, Haryana, as part of a breeding programme undertaken by BNHS (BirdLife in India) and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK). Scientists had not expected the birds to breed successfully in captivity until at least 2008.

The egg was laid in November and since then, we have been waiting and hoping. said Dr Vibhu Prakash, Principal Scientist for the vulture breeding programme at BNHS This success shows that we have got the conditions right, so now we can plan ahead with confidence to breed many more vultures in the future.Captive breeding is being used in India to help ensure that Asian vulture populations recover after populations of three vulture species - White-Rumped Vulture, Indian Vulture Gyps indicus and Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris - declined by more that 95 percent in just three years in the 1990s. Subsequent research found a link between the apparent vulture declines and a veterinary drug, diclofenac, being used in treating livestock. Many millions of vultures are thought to have died as a result of feeding on the carcasses of livestock treated with the drug.

Vultures, being highly efficient scavengers, are a crucial part of South Asia’s ecosystems. In recent years they have continued to decline by between 22 and 48 percent each year.

Vulture numbers are now so low that the birds’ survival is largely dependent on captive breeding success, as well as stopping the use of diclofenac.

The drug is currently being phased out in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Chris Bowden, Head of the RSPB’s Vulture Conservation Programme said: The hatching of this vulture chick is a hugely important milestone and shows that the vulture breeding programme really can help save the vultures once diclofenac is removed from the environment.

In January 2006, scientists from the RSPB and the Zoological Society of London proved that the drug meloxicam was a suitable, and safe, alternative to diclofenac. Conservationists are now promoting the use of this safer drug in veterinary practice: The increasing availability of meloxicam means that farmers and vets can switch to the new drug. But this must happen immediately if we are to avoid losing the last remaining wild vultures, urged Dr Asad Rahmani, Director of the Bombay Natural History Society.

4th July 2014