A Global Initiative to Protect South Georgia’s Albatrosses

Background

Wandering albatross mate and nest on South Georgia. This is one of the species that often accidentally perishes in the nets of international fishing fleets.

With its location near the fertile ocean currents of the Antarctic convergence, South Georgia is a wildlife sanctuary, and one of the few places in the stormy Southern Ocean where many species – including albatross – can breed and rear their young on land.

These ideal habitats mean that South Georgia is a globally significant breeding site for several albatross species including: Grey-headed (50% of world population), wandering (18% of world population) black-browed (12% of world population).

Despite its status as a global icon of the Southern Oceans, the albatross now faces unprecedented challenges. As one of South Georgia’s most important nesting bird species, these unique creatures have long acted as a sentinel for global albatross populations. It is estimated now however that an albatross dies somewhere in the world’s fisheries every five minutes (c.100,000 deaths a year). Incidental mortality during commercial fishing operations, known as bycatch, has resulted in widespread population decline in albatross species worldwide. As a result, albatrosses are the world’s most threatened family of birds. Of the 22 species, IUCN Red List has listed 17 as ‘Threatened with extinction’ and the remaining five are considered to be ‘Near-threatened’. Worryingly, research, led by scientists at British Antarctic Study (BAS), has found that all of South Georgia’s albatross species are now experiencing steep population decline of 44% (Grey-headed), 18% (Wandering) and 19% (Black-browed) over the previous 11 years.

Tackling at-sea Threats to South Georgia’s Wandering, Grey-headed and
Black-browed Albatross Populations

A stunning black-browed albatross

International fishing fleets pose the greatest direct threat to South Georgia’s albatross populations.
Albatrosses by their very nature are opportunistic foragers that take advantage of diverse food items including food scraps made available at the ocean surface and by foraging behind fishing vessels. Their circumpolar distribution also brings them into conflict with a wide range of pelagic longline fisheries.

We know that given the albatross’s extensive feeding ranges – some make a round journey of 100,000 miles to locate and bring back food for their chicks – addressing the by-catch challenge needs a collaborative, multi-national effort.

Addressing the by-catch Challenge Through a Global Collaboration

Albatrosses are attracted to fishing lines and bait

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) , Friends of South Georgia Island (FOSGI) and our lead partners, the RSPB, BAS, BirdLife International and GSGSSI, are working together to reduce the high mortality rate among South Georgia’s albatross species.

This work is ultimately about ensuring global albatross populations thrive once more.

Project Aims

  • To work with international fishing fleets to study and address by-catch threats to albatross species.
  • Using satellite tracking, research the distribution of immature and juvenile albatrosses from South Georgia, a population particularly prone to bycatch.
  • Raise awareness of the plight of South Georgia albatrosses. This will bring the issue alive for the public and decision-makers.

A Lasting Global Impact

The immediate and sustained change this project aims to realise is to establish protocols among global fishing fleets that will drive the widespread use of bycatch mitigation measures (specifically targeting the Japanese tuna fleets initially). This will lead to a reduction in the number of South Georgia albatrosses that perish and ultimately remove these albatross species from global endangered list.

Please help us to protect South Georgia’s wonderful albatrosses by making a donation here.

The courtship dance of the wandering albatross
Black-browed albatross chick