Saving the albatross in comfort

OliYates-01The endeavours of ocean wanderers like the albatross never cease to amaze us. Perhaps it’s because we humans struggle to endure the mighty seas and freezing temperatures of the southern oceans where these birds thrive. For those who spend any time upon the raucous seas where albatrosses roam, it is a constant reminder of just how frail we are compared with the albatross which have perfected their physiology to cope with the harshest of environments. However, sometimes their adaptation works against them because they are so adept at foraging over vast distances that our presence in their habitat has become a threat to these seabirds. Longline fisheries use hooks baited with squid, an albatross staple, deployed at intervals on lines that stretch over 60 km long to catch high value fish such as tunas and swordfish. Seabirds, especially albatross, follow the fishing vessels and steal baited hooks before they can sink into the depths. This stolen meal far too often results in the death of the thief, with over 300,000 seabirds killed in longline and trawl fisheries per year, at least 100,000 of which are albatross. However, this unnecessary mortality is easily avoided, by using bycatch mitigation measures like a bird-scaring line to ward off foraging birds, line weighting to sink the hooks faster and setting lines at night when the birds are less active. OliYates-02The hard part is convincing the fishing industry that these measures are effective, and necessary. To create that awareness, and generate the uptake of mitigation measures in the worlds’ bycatch hotspots, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International launched the Albatross Task Force. The ATF is a team of bycatch mitigation practitioners who work directly with industry, at sea, on deck, right next to the people setting the hooks. The mission of the ATF is to implement best practice mitigation measures in seabird bycatch hot spots, to reduce the levels of mortality and ultimately to improve the conservation status of these threatened birds. This involves generating links with industry and government, conducting frequent sea trips to test, and improve mitigation and help industry re-adjust their fishing gear and operations to prevent albatross mortality. Our results show that the measures are extremely effective, with seabird bycatch reductions of over 90% possible where mitigation is adopted. OliYates-03These results are only possible by spending the necessary time at sea in all conditions, and that is why the ATF uses Páramo directional clothing. Staying warm and dry makes long periods on deck much more comfortable, but the design details are really what make the difference. Adjustable hoods that hold off the worst of the rain without diminishing the view of the wearer are great for performing seabird abundance counts. A range of pockets help store the range of utensils for recording data during hours on deck, and the lightweight and flexible fabrics permit changing the number of layers beneath the top coat as weather demands. Oli Yates, RSPB

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