The South African newspaper, the Mail & Guardian holds a prestigious, annual ‘Greening the Future’ awards ceremony in Johannesburg. This year the South African Albatross Task Force team was awarded top honours for our work introducing an innovative solution that has reduced albatross deaths in the local trawl fishery by more than 90%.

Our work in South Africa’s largest, most economically valuable fishery – the hake trawl fishery – began in 2004. The fishery has an ecolabel certification from the Marine Stewardship Council, which provided a powerful incentive to rectify environmental problems. After we uncovered seabird mortalities in this fishery were at astonishing levels – some 14 000 birds were being killed each year – we were able to demonstrate and later implement bird scaring lines for all teh trawl vessels.

The solution is elegant in its simplicity. Bird scaring lines are deployed from the stern of the vessel, with streamers that dangle off the main line to scare the seabirds away from the danger areas behind trawlers. Earlier this year, we published a study showing that bird scaring lines were responsible for reducing accidental deaths by 90%. For albatrosses alone the benefits were even bigger – a reduction of 99%. As part of this project, BirdLife South Africa has supported a disabled community by training them in the construction of bird scaring lines, which are then sold on to fishing companies.

Our work received a lot of attention when we were awarded first prize in the ‘Green Technology’ category at the Mail & Guardian’s Greening the Future Awards. This comes hot on the heels of an international award for the South African team – in April I travelled to the Netherlands to receive a ‘Future for Nature Award’ for the work I have been leading here in South Africa over the past years.

Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, said “The Albatross Task Force has achieved truly remarkable results, effectively eliminating a conservation problem, under very difficult circumstances, with limited budgets, and in a way that benefits the fishing industry rather than creating costs. It’s a very pleasing conservation success for BirdLife South Africa.”

Below: Dr Ross Wanless, African Coordinator for the BirdLife Marine Programme with the Mail & Guardian Greening the Future award