We continue our conversation with BirdLife International seabird ecologist Ana Carneiro, talking more about her study to uncover interactions between wandering albatross and fishing vessels, in “near-real time”. You can read part one here, where Ana introduced herself and told us what it was like meeting Sitka, our wandering albatross mum and #AlbatrossStories star for this season.

In part two we delve deeper into this exciting study and what Ana has seen and learnt from her ‘days in the office’.

Can you explain what your current study involves and what new technology it utilises? 

Our study uses state-of-the-art loggers that can monitor in near-real time fisheries in remote areas. They can also be a “game-changer” given the capacity for identifying Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Similar to other loggers, these can be attached to the animal’s back feathers to record the location of the birds during their foraging trips; however they also have something novel - they regularly scan their surroundings to detect the presence of a vessel radar. All navigating vessels use radar for safety and operational reasons, so this way we can detect the proximity between the bird and a vessel. 

With this study we hope to greatly improve our knowledge about seabird bycatch risk – we can get much more precision about when and where it occurs. Our results will help focus allocation of the limited resources available to improve bycatch mitigation and compliance-monitoring.

What could the findings of this unique study mean for albatross conservation?

Wandering albatrosses on South Georgia have declined catastrophically since the 1960s due to bycatch in fisheries. Since 2006, bycatch of seabirds has been reduced to negligible levels in fisheries operating around South Georgia because of regulations introduced under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). However, albatrosses can travel very large distances and are still bycaught in other areas of their wide distributions, including in the high-seas (i.e. areas beyond national jurisdictions). 

Continuing poor practices and weak or no enforcement of regulations means that bycatch is still a major threat for wandering albatrosses – as well as for many other seabird populations. We hope that our results will contribute to making all of the waters used by these ocean wanderers as safe as those around South Georgia.

Tell us about a typical ‘day in the office’ on Bird Island for you.

I generally have breakfast with the other 12 people on station (usually only four stay for the winter). I then prepare the loggers for deployment by programming them and waterproofing by encasing them in heat shrink plastic. When ready, I head to the wandering albatross study area. I spend the day there waiting for birds to return to their nests, either to make new deployments or to retrieve loggers from birds that were out at sea. During incubation both the male and female share their duties incubating the egg and searching for food at sea. I return to the station in the evening for dinner. I then download the data from the loggers retrieved and do all my data entry for the day. I also spend some time relaxing and chatting before going to bed. We all take turns to cook evening meals and make bread. Saturdays are kept formal, with three course meals, and birthdays and other celebrations are special events.

Working on the frontline of conservation, what do you see as the biggest threat to albatross and what can we all do from home?

The primary threat to albatrosses, as for many other seabirds, is bycatch in fisheries. Bycatch mainly occurs as seabirds become hooked on baited hooks, trapped in nets or collide with warp cables when scavenging for food on the sea surface and, ultimately, drown. Recent experience shows that it is possible to address some of the major problems faced by seabirds, and start reversing the actual trend of decline of many species. The implementation of mitigation measures, including bird scaring lines, night setting and line weighting are highly effective in preventing these unintentional deaths in fisheries. One thing you can do from home is to ask for sustainable seafood that shows the Marine Stewardship Council label – this makes sure your food is caught sustainably, in a well managed fishery using seabird-safe fishing methods.

Ana, you’re in a rare position where you get to meet our #AlbatrossStories stars. Can you tell us a bit about what it’s like to work up-close with some of these elegant creatures?

The only thing I can say is that working with them is truly unbelievable. They are spectacular and they deserve everything we can do to save them from extinction.

You can support the work of the Albatross Task Force to protect these extraordinary birds in the areas they need it the most by becoming a Friend of the Albatross and contributing a monthly donation of your choice.

Follow #AlbatrossStories on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

This study is a collaboration between BirdLife International and the British Antarctic Survey and funded by Darwin Plus

Photos: Ana Carneiro