A lot of you may have seen that some of our favourite seabirds were featured in the first episode of the new Sir David Attenborough series, Seven Worlds, One Planet.
The colony of grey-headed albatross filmed for this program is situated on Bird Island, the colony we have been following for the best part of a year with #AlbatrossStories! And whilst many of us were enthralled in their charisma and beauty - a familiar sight for those of you following our social media stars Bobby and Skylander - this episode highlighted a much deeper and heart-breaking problem emerging in their world.
Grey-headed albatross, like many other albatross species, are suffering from rapid population declines. To halt these devastating declines, it is crucial we understand what is driving them. We are therefore working with scientists to find out where the juveniles go when they head out to sea. A recent study by scientists at BirdLife indicates that, on average, seabird species are impacted by at least three different threats during their lifetime. This is particularly prevalent in long-living species, who generally have low productivity and late maturity… albatross.
With estimates suggesting an albatross is killed on a fishing hook every five minutes, it is unsurprising that bycatch comes out as the main threats to these birds (affecting 95% of albatross species according to the study by Dias et al., 2019). Yet, many fishing vessels around the world still do not implement seabird bycatch mitigation techniques to prevent this. However, thanks to the fantastic and determined work of the Albatross Task Force team this is changing one fleet at a time! And many studies have indicated that implementing bycatch mitigation techniques onboard fishing vessels is effective and can virtually eliminate albatross bycatch, particularly when multiple methods are used together.
On land, alien invasive species cause significant disruption to many seabirds’ breeding success. With most albatross colonies being situated on remote, isolated and exposed islands, there has been little need for them to evolve effective defences against mammal predators. So much so that on Gough Island, where mice were accidently introduced, these small often considered non-threatening creatures are devastating the large and critically endangered Tristan Albatross.
As David Attenborough highlighted in Seven Worlds, One Planet, climate change has been an increasing danger and challenge for many of our planets’ wildlife. This challenge is one many species have not been exposed to previously and is “posing a problem they can’t solve”. I think I speak for everyone when I say we waited on bated breath as that little chick crawled helplessly up the unforgiving muddy walls of its nest. Although difficult for us to watch the parent will just stand by, providing no aid. Why would they evolve a secondary method of identifying their young when their chick is always in the nest?
With all the challenges facing our beloved albatross, it is easy to become overwhelmed and demoralised. Although addressing climate change is no easy task, we know that bycatch mitigation and island restoration projects can drastically improve the chances of these birds’ survival. With growing support and awareness of this magnificent and diverse group of seabirds and what we can all do to help save them, the future doesn’t look so dark after all.
By Samuel Wrobel (Albatross Task Force comms volunteer)
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