South Africa hosts 6th Meeting of Parties to Agreement on conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels
South Africa hosts the Sixth Session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), in Skukuza, Kruger National Park, from 7 May to 11 May 2018.
Delivering the opening address this morning of the South African National Parks (SANParks), Managing Executive: Conservation Services, Dr Luthando Dziba pointed out that waters around South Africa’s coasts are important feeding grounds for several albatrosses, petrels and other birds that migrate into the region.
The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, or ACAP, is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.
Development of the Agreement commenced in 1999. It was concluded rapidly with only two meetings required to agree the text. These meetings, held in Hobart, Australia, and Cape Town, South Africa, were attended by 16 countries and five international organizations. ACAP was opened for signature in Canberra, Australia on 19 June 2001 and entered into force on 1 February 2004, at which time all Southern Hemisphere species of albatrosses and seven petrel species were listed under its auspices.
By June 2015 there were 13 Parties to the Agreement - Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. The Agreement’s Secretariat is located in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. ACAP is supported by a small Secretariat which consists of an Executive Secretary, a Science Officer and an honorary Information Officer.
The First Session of the Meeting of the Parties (MoP1) was convened in November 2004 in Hobart, preceded by a two-day Scientific Meeting. A key outcome of MoP1 was the establishment of an Advisory Committee to guide the implementation of the Agreement.
The Advisory Committee is supported by three working groups - the Population and Conservation Status Working Group, the Seabird Bycatch Working Group and the Taxonomy Working Group. Sessions of the Meeting of Parties are ordinarily held at three-year intervals, with the Advisory Committee and its working groups meeting in the intervening years.
What ACAP does
A key area of ACAP’s work is the review of the population status and trends of all ACAP-listed species by way of maintaining a global database and producing a series of Species Assessments. These assessments provide information on each species’ distribution, threats facing individual populations, the conservation measures in place to protect them, and identify any gaps in knowledge about the species. ACAP has also developed Conservation Guidelines on biosecurity and quarantine for breeding sites; Conservation Guidelines on the eradication of introduced mammals from islands; best-practice advice for mitigating seabird bycatch in fisheries operations and an Action Conservation Plan for the Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.
Other activities undertaken by ACAP include funding research projects via small grants programme, supporting capacity-building initiatives and enhancing awareness among the concerned public of the plight facing albatrosses and petrels, primarily by disseminating information via daily postings. Such news includes an on-going series of illustrated ACAP Breeding Site accounts, brief reports of field work, management activities, conferences and other meetings, abstracts of scientific and popular publications and book reviews.
The Agreement has been working with tuna Regional Fishery Management Organizations (tRFMOs), the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and other relevant fisheries management organizations to encourage the adoption of best-practice mitigation measures to reduce seabird mortality in longline fisheries in international waters outside national jurisdictions (the high seas). Nearly all of the tRFMOs have in the last few years adopted conservation measures incorporating ACAP’s best-practice advice for seabird bycatch mitigation in pelagic longline fisheries (a combination of night setting, line weighting and deployment of bird-scaring lines). ACAP has also been working to reduce seabird mortality in trawl and other fisheries where seabird bycatch occurs. A recent product is a seabird bycatch identification guide directed at fishery observers to improve the quality of collected information on mortality. It is intended to publish the guide in eight languages.
South Africa supports large populations of albatrosses and petrels at its Prince Edward Islands in the Southern Ocean. These birds range well beyond South Africa’s territorial waters where they are at risk to fishing activities on the high seas and in the waters of other states, particularly as by-catch in long-line and demersal-trawl fisheries. Other threats to albatrosses and petrels include predation by introduced animals, disease and global change. House mice have been introduced to Marion Island and continue to impact negatively on these seabirds. Disease in penguins has been reported at the island and there have been recent indications of an altered availability of food for some birds at the island.
Species protected under ACAP
ACAP focuses on any species, subspecies or population of albatrosses and petrels listed in its Annex 1. It currently covers all 22 of the world’s species of albatrosses of four genera, all seven species of petrels in the genera Macronectes (two species of giant petrels) and Procellaria and two species of shearwaters in the genus Puffinus, all of which belong to the avian tubenose order Procellariiformes.
At the Third Session of the Meeting of Parties, held in Norway in 2009, the three North Pacific albatrosses (Short-tailed Phoebastria albatrus, Laysan P. immutabilis and Black-footed P. nigripes) were added to the Agreement. At the Fourth Session of the Meeting of Parties, held in Peru in 2012, the Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus, endemic to the Mediterranean Sea, was added to the Agreement. At the Fifth Session of the Meeting of Parties held in Spain in 2015 the Pink-footed Shearwater P. creatopus was added, bringing the total number of species currently included within the Agreement to 31.
Twenty-one of the listed species carry a globally threatened status, ranging from Critically Endangered (four species), Endangered (seven species) to Vulnerable (10 species). Seven species are considered to be Near Threatened and only three of the 31 ACAP-listed species (the Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris and both giant petrels) are currently characterized as of Least Concern.
One of the most significant threats facing albatrosses and petrels is mortality resulting from interactions with fishing gear, especially longline- and trawl-fishing operations. In addition, birds may be threatened at their breeding sites by introduced predators, diseases, habitat loss and human disturbance. The Agreement provides a focus for international cooperation and the exchange of information and expertise, and the Action Plan annexed to the Agreement offers a framework for the implementation of effective conservation measures for these threatened seabirds, both on land and at sea.
Although individual nations are taking measures to protect albatrosses and petrels, international cooperative action is also required. Albatrosses and petrels are susceptible to threats operating throughout their wide migratory ranges that extend across national boundaries into international waters and it is unlikely that actions by any one nation alone will be effective in improving their global conservation status. International cooperation on albatross and petrel conservation thus enhances the prospects for successful conservation measures across their ranges.