World Bird News August 2008

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'Net losses' for South African seabirds

A study of trawl fishing in South Africa suggests that around 18,000 seabirds may be killed annually in this fishery, highlighting trawl fisheries as a major threat to seabirds, especially several species of albatross already facing a risk of extinction.
Published in the journal Animal Conservation, the study was based on scientists monitoring catches on 14 different vessels, operating in the Benguela Current, off South Africa; one of the main hotspots for seabirds in the Southern Hemisphere. The vessels were trawling for hake, and the majority of bird deaths were a result of collisions with wires – known as warp lines – leading from the stern of the vessels.
“We believe the seabird deaths the scientists recorded might be just the tip of the iceberg”, said John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme. “It suggests that around 18,000 seabirds may be killed annually in this fishery alone,” he added.
“Most mortality relates to the dumping of fishing waste behind the boat. This attracts seabirds which can either hit the warp lines or become entangled in the nets,” commented Dr Croxall.
The species killed during the study include South African breeding species such as Vulerable Cape Gannet Morus capensis, and species such as Vulnerable White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis, Endangered Black-browed Diomedea melanophris and Near Threatened Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta - although genetic evidence suggests Near Threatened White-capped Albatross Thalassarche steadi is more frequently observed in the area than the morphologically similar Shy Albatross - which visit the Benguela Current region from nesting islands dotted around the Southern Ocean. “The impact of this one local fishery has very widespread geographical repercussions”, warned Dr Croxall. “Potential mortality at this scale for the albatrosses is unsustainable”.
Data of this nature are very difficult to obtain, as fatal collisions are relatively rare events. However, collecting this information is an obligation - under the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing - on the managers and practitioners of a fishery. “One would hope that further data like these will now become available through appropriate collaborations involving fishery managers”, noted Dr Croxall.
BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force (ATF) is addressing these issues. The ATF has developed the world’s first international team of mitigation instructors working with fishermen and government agencies in global bycatch ‘hotspots’, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Namibia, South Africa and Uruguay. ATF instructors routinely show that the adoption of mitigation measures are both operationally and economically effective. To support the work of the ATF, please click here to donate today.

Peru’s spectacular seabirds seeking sanctuary


Peru’s seabirds, especially the spectacular aggregations at its guano islands, are world famous. However, a new BirdLife report indicates that many of the sites and species are under increased threat and urgently need better protection.
The new report - jointly published with the American Bird Conservancy - details the outcomes of a workshop held in Lima (Peru) last year entitled “Seabirds and Seabird-Fishery Interactions”. The objective was to bring together individuals and organisations working on seabird-related topics in Peru in order to develop a coordinated plan of action in relation to seabird conservation and management priorities. The workshop focussed on identifying breeding sites for key species and addressing the principal threats to these.
Paramount is the need to take action now to preserve the Peruvian guano islands, whose seabird populations have decreased from 15-20 million to just 2 million over the last 30 years, to the extent that harvesting their guano – bird droppings - may no longer be economically viable. This guano has been harvested for centuries along the coast of Peru and is an important source of organic fertilizer.
John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme explained that “the combination of the immensely productive cold Humboldt Current offshore and the dry climate onshore created conditions whereby Peru’s coastal islands hosted vast colonies of seabirds whose droppings were preserved in layers tens of metres deep.”

Although the guano harvest was partly responsible for reducing seabird numbers, if it stopped now, the limited protection most islands currently enjoy using guano wardens would cease. This would result in widespread disturbance and depredation of the important seabird colonies. The delegates agreed that the breeding sites urgently need more protection.
Successful transfer of the sites to the Peruvian National Protected Areas System would require substantial resources to develop and implement appropriate management plans which have the support of regional and local authorities and communities. Dr Croxall commented that “a major international fundraising initiative will be needed, both to protect the islands until a sustainable longer-term plan is developed as well as to create and underpin this plan”.
The report also highlights the plight of three Globally Threatened, and declining, seabirds for which Peru holds a big portion of the world population:
Vulnerable Humboldt Penguin Spheniscus humboldtii: now fewer than 5,000 birds remain. They are threatened by fisheries bycatch and competition as well as disturbance and illegal capture.
Endangered Peruvian Diving Petrel Pelecanoides garnotii: now restricted to two main sites and threatened by hunting, introduced predators, reduced food availability and fisheries bycatch.
Endangered Peruvian Tern Sterna lorata: now fewer than 1,000 birds at no more than three known breeding sites and threatened there by disturbance and coastal development.
“An urgent priority for the conservation of Peruvian Terns is to protect the largest known breeding site, within the Paracas reserve, from disturbance by tourists and vehicles” said Dr Croxall. He further explained that “for all species effective site protection and management are needed. The workshop identified about 40 sites which need to be properly safeguarded if the great spectacles of Peruvian seabirds are to survive” Currently only two receive statutory protection.

The report also addresses issues arising from: longline fishing and bycatch of seabirds; the concept and practice of identifying marine IBAs; and the management of anchoveta fish stocks to reduce competition between seabirds and the fishing industry. The outcomes of discussions on these topics are presented and the full document can be downloaded below.
The workshop was organised by the Global Seabird Programme of BirdLife International in conjunction with the American Bird Conservancy seabird program.

Credits: Global Seabird Programme
downloads/news/Peru seabird- English.pdf

Canal diverted to save Jerdon's Courser


The 270-mile Teluga Ganga Canal, from Srisailam in central Andhra Pradesh to Chennai (Madras), is to be diverted around the only remaining habitat of the Critically Endangered Jerdon's Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus.
Because of its specialised habitat requirements, Jerdon's Courser is endemic to the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh and extreme southern Madhya Pradesh, India. Believed to number no more than 50 individuals, the bird was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in Andhra Pradesh 22 years ago. The rediscovery led the Andhra Pradesh government to establish the Sri Lankamalleswara Wildlife Sanctuary, to protect the courser's habitat of scrub forest interspersed with bare ground in the gently rolling, rocky foothills of the Eastern Ghats.
When the proposed route of the canal threatened the sanctuary, conservationists including Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India) and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) urged the Supreme Court of India to intervene. The Supreme Court halted the construction work, and now, three years later, a new route has been approved which avoids most of the protected sites.The Andhra Pradesh Irrigation Department has agreed, in principle, to buy 3,000 acres of scrub forest between the new canal route and the sanctuary. The state's Forest Department will manage that land to protect and enlarge the bird's habitat.Dr Panchapakesan Jeganathan, a scientist at BNHS, said: "This bird is more threatened than the tiger, and very few people have ever seen it. People thought Jerdon's Courser was a block to progress, but are now benefitting from the canal's realignment because they will receive generous compensation, and the only land they are losing is difficult to farm."

Fuelwood collection and overgrazing, and more recently disturbance from the construction of the canal, may have contributed to the bird's decline, But some livestock grazing and forest management will continue in the sanctuary to maintain the open scrub.

"There is every chance that Jerdon's Courser will survive this development and, with the right management, eventually increase its numbers", Dr Jeganathan continued. "The decision is an example of how governments, communities and conservationists can work together for mutual gain, without putting in jeopardy the future of a threatened species."
Scientists believe other nearby scrub forests could be harbouring Jerdon's coursers, and have been given permission to attach radio transmitters to two birds. They will also use cameras and footprint tracking strips to find out more about the species.
Ian Barber, the RSPB's Asia Officer, said: "It is crucial we find other sites hosting Jerdon's coursers and encourage both politicians and the people living nearby to support that work."
He added: "We are hoping the courser will become the State Bird of Andhra Pradesh to create a sense of pride and stewardship among all of those on whom its future depends."

Search continues for Fiji Petrel


An expedition in search of Fiji’s only endemic seabird - Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi – had to be aborted. Conservation action now continues to focus upon working alongside local communities to locate and protect their elusive breeding grounds.
The rare petrel was previously known from just one specimen collected in 1855 on Gau Island, Fiji. However, there have been more sightings in recent years from the small island, and a bird was captured and released there in 1984 by Dr Dick Watling of MareqetiViti (NatureFiji).
The recent voyage aimed to provide the first confirmed reports of Fiji Petrel at sea. The scientists were also keen to test the possibility of catching and fitting adults with radio transmittors. However, the trip had to be abandoned after three days due to mechanical problems with the survey vessel.
Hadoram Shirihai – an ornithologist on the expedition - commented: “It was most frustrating for us to leave prematurely without confirmed sightings of this elusive bird”. However, the crew did manage to view some impressive seabirds. Sightings included the first confirmed White-throated Storm-petrel Nesofregetta fuliginosa (Vulnerable) in the Fiji and Samoa biogeographical region for 132 years. Also observed were the first and second confirmed Fijian sightings respectively of White-bellied Storm-petrel Fregetta grallaria and Kermadec Petrel Pterodroma neglecta. “It is evident from our records the real possibilities for groundbreaking research in this marine area”, noted Mr Shirihai.The Fiji Petrel is classified as Critically Endangered because it is estimated that there is only a tiny population which is confined to a very small breeding area. Furthermore, it is assumed to be declining because of predation by introduced species such as cats, rats and feral pigs.

“The most urgent priority remains locating and protecting the breeding grounds” noted Dr Dick Watling. Repeated surveys attempting to find evidence of breeding on Gau Island have been unsuccessful.
The BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme aims to save all 190 Critically Endangered birds. NatureFiji - the Species Guardian for Fiji Petrel – have benefited from funds donated by the Species Champion The British Birdwatching Fair. Conservation has involved working alongside the National Trust of Fiji to build capacity for community conservation. “We are now planning to find breeding locations by radio-tracking adults back to their nest sites, and by searching for nests using specially trained sniffer-dogs”, said Dr Watling.Another expedition is planned for July 2009 to continue searching for the elusive seabird. Limited spaces are available. The second edition of Hadoram Shirihai’s book, A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife, has recently been published. All author royalties from the sale of the book are kindly being donated to BirdLife's Save The Albatross Campaign. BirdLife would like to take the opportunity to thank Hadoram for his extremely generous support. If you would like to read more about the 2008 Fiji Petrel Expedition, or to enquire about a planned 2009, click here. Hadoram also has a new book in preparation entitled Albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters of the world: a handbook to their taxonomy, identification, ecology and conservation.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2008 |  World Bird News August 2008

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