World Seabird Conference
An incredible 600 delegates from 52 countries have come together for the 2nd World Seabird Conference in Cape Town. They will share insights and research on the conservation of the world’s seabirds.
According to BirdLife International, seabirds are our most at-risk group of birds in the world. The global nature of seabirds means they know no boundaries and roam the world’s oceans, so it’s important to bring people together to exchange ideas and develop new collaborations with a common purpose – to provide scientific insight and drive effective conservation action.
Highlights today have been the sessions on seabird bycatch, ocean health and penguins.
I was surprised to learn from BirdLife South Africa’s Bokomoso Lebepe that permit conditions in South Africa for the surface long line fishery require 3 mitigation measures (night fishing, line weighting and bird scaring lines). There are also punitive measures if limits are exceeded.
In New Zealand, just 2 out of 3 mitigation measures are required. However working directly with fishermen is still required by BirdLife International’s Albatross Taskforce to help fishers implement the required measures and achieve the incredible reductions on seabird bycatch that have been recorded.
Mercury is a persistent toxin in the environment can have nervous, endocrine and embryonic impacts to seabirds. Many such pollutants are transported to the Arctic in the atmosphere and melting ice may release more pollutants and also potentially create new areas for industry.
Although the US and Canada have stopped contributing these pollutants and there has been some reduction in their presence in eggs of seabird species, Asia is continuing to increase their production of mercury through coal-fired power stations.
The penguin symposium was probably the most sobering as most of the world’s penguins are suffering declines in population where monitoring has occurred.
In the Antarctic however some species such as gentoos appear to have greater flexibility in their life history traits and may be more able to withstand the impacts of climate change than others such as Adelies which are more dependent on sea ice.
The situation presented for NZ was perhaps the most depressing with very little reliable data on penguin populations. What data we do have suggests some catastrophic declines such as for Eastern rockhopper penguins on Antipodes and Campbell Islands. For Fiordland penguins we have no idea of the population trend, but my view it is not likely to be good as they are so susceptible to predators and there are currently very few if any safe havens for them on their mainland breeding habitat.
For yellow-eyed penguin we know the mainland population is in deep trouble – a combination of anthropogenic factors – habitat destruction followed by fisheries bycatch, disease and predation. The subantarctic population similar to the Fiordland penguin – the population trend is unknown as are any factors that could be affecting their survival.
BirdLife International has embarked on a new penguin strategy to draw together penguin experts to provide advice on priorities for research and conservation and try to provide much needed impetus towards finding effective solutions to conserve the world’s penguins.