Celebrating seabird success

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Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Celebrating seabird success

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The headline from this week's publication of Birdlife International's Red List for birds was bad news - more species threatened with extinction than ever before.

But there was some good news.  For example, the conservation prospects of two albatross species (Black-browed and Black-footed) have improved.

Black-browed Albatross, Grahame Madge (rspb-images.com)

Red Lists calculate the risk of a species becoming extinct.  They help gauge the scale of the conservation challenge and where to target finite conservation resources. 

Back in 2004, 19 out of the 22 species of albatross appeared in the top three categories of risk: Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable.  They were at a high risk of extinction primarily due to bycatch from long line fishing. 

The RSPB response was to work with Birdlife to find ways to encourage fishermen to catch fish rather than seabirds.  Thanks to the generosity of RSPB members and some major donations from a range of sources, we were able to recruit an Albatross Task Force working on board boats and to influence the rules governing the management of tuna fisheries around the world.

The results has been spectacular.  We have seen bycatch rates reduce dramatically in fisheries where we have been working (for example, there has been a 90% reduction in bycatch in some South Africa fisheries).  And, this has played a significant part in the down-listing in threat status in some species.

The table below shows how the threat to albatrosses has shifted over time.  Today, just 15 out of 22 species now appear in the top three extinction risk categories.

In less than a decade, the Birdlife International Global Seabird Programme has helped deliver brighter prospects for some of our most iconic seabirds.  There is still much to do - especially to extend conservation efforts to Asia.  The team invovled are a committed and inspirational bunch and I know they will not stop until they can guarantee a positive future for all 22 albatrosses.

Hats off to the team for all their efforts.  

  • And in Swahiki - haba na haba hujaza kibaba. A little and a little fills the kibaba jar...

  • Fantastic effort by the RSPB and Birdlife International. Congratulations to all those involved. The teams on the trawlers are truly making a huge contribution to conservation "on the firing line".

    According to the ancient Chinese proverb "a journey of a thousand miles (which this project seemed like originally) begins with a single step". That step and more have now been taken. There are still many more steps to go, but the journey now starts to look a lot less than "a thousand miles". I have no doubts these further steps will continue to be made successfully.  

  • I've never seen an Albatross. One day maybe I'll be lucky to travel to somewhere I can see one - I'd love to. In the meantime, Albatrosses epitomise what the economists call 'existence value' - it is worth every penny going to RSPB to know that these wonderful, heroic birds are alongside us on the planet. For me, the world would be immeasurably poorer without Albatrosses and I've followed the frightening attrition of the southern ocean seabirds with horror. Its a huge credit to RSPB, Birdlife and, perhaps most of all the Albatross Team and the fishermen they work with that two species have taken a small step towards the future. Well done Albatross team, and thank you fishermen !