The albatross: flying high, again...

They are one of the earth’s most majestic creatures, but the fishing industry pushed them to the brink of extinction. Now a pioneering scheme in South Africa could save the albatross.

A A A

Ever since Samuel Taylor Coleridge first wrote of the fate endured by the ancient mariner who shot the albatross, the majestic bird has been a sight to behold, as well as a feared omen.

Yet literary significance – and a supersition that the bird represents the souls of lost sailors – has not been enough to curtail a fishing industry that is threatening albatrosses with extinction. Up to 100,000 birds a year are killed each year after being caught on the baited hooks of long-line fishing trawlers intended for tuna or swordfish.

Now a pioneering scheme, led by the RSPB and Birdlife International, could herald the beginning of a brighter future. Piloted in South African waters, the project sees fishermen shown a number of simple measures to ward birds away from the fishing hooks and has seen the number of albatrosses and petrels caught in local waters fall by 85 per cent over a year.

The full findings will be unveiled tonight at a special reception in Clarence House. Among those attending will be the Prince of Wales, who once said that the demise of the seabirds would be an “an appalling commentary on the way we treat the world”.

The project dates back to 2006, when the Albatross Task Force was launched in the wake of the growing number of birds unintentionally killed by long-line fishing boats operating in the Southern Ocean. The scheme was approved by the South African government and local fishing industries. Some 18 out of 22 species of the long-lived bird are at risk of extinction, with fishing the main threat to their survival. Albatrosses are among the largest of flying birds, and the great albatrosses have the largest wingspans of any bird. The group responded by deploying a number of trained experts on fishing vessels to instruct crews on ways to prevent birds becoming entangled in the lines that trail fishing boats.

Comprising a number of cost-effective options, the main measure was to deploy streamers, or tori lines, that fall off the back of the boat towards a buoy stationed in the sea, creating a “curtain” that scares the birds away from the baited fishing lines. Fishermen are also encouraged to sink their lines at night, when the birds are asleep, or use weighted hooks that sink quickly and coloured ones that are more difficult for birds in flight to spot.

After piloting the scheme with fishermen and local government in South Africa, the number of albatrosses and petrels caught on the lines of the foreign long-line fishing fleet dropped from 1,016 in 2007 to 153 in 2008.

This was also helped by new permit conditions that were brought in for the long-line fishing industry in South Africa in 2008 which limited seabird “bycatch” to 25 birds, making fishermen take more responsibility for preventing bird deaths.

Dr Ross Wanless, co-ordinator of the Birdlife global seabird programme in Africa, said: “We have to adopt an ecosystem approach to fisheries, to minimise the impacts of fishing on non-target species, including seabirds. Changing entrenched attitudes and practices is a slow process, but the ATF has shown that by working with government and industry, change is possible.” The solution provides new hope for the albatross.

Grahame Madge, conservation spokesman for the RSPB, said: “The problem has been exacerbated in recent years with the industrialisation of fisheries, larger fishing numbers, new technology and the rise of trawl fishing.”

Meidad Goren, who leads the task force, said that compliance with protection measures had reached 96 per cent on the boats, and the measures had not reduced the number of fish caught.

“Seabirds are attracted to the baited hooks and if they get caught they drown as the line sinks. We spend a great deal of time with the fishermen showing them ways to prevent the birds from getting hooked,” he said. “Fishermen can continue to make a living without harming these endangered birds. They now understand that in order to continue fishing they must avoid killing seabirds, and are very co-operative.”

The scheme has since been rolled out in other international “hotspots” where albatrosses are most at risk from long-line fishing, including waters around Namibia, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Chile. The first set of results will be revealed later this year.

Albatross: Facts and figures

*The UK overseas regions have seven pairs of breeding albatrosses – more than half of the Southern Hemisphere’s breeding pairs.

*The number of albatross species is debated and ranges from 13 to 24; 21 is the commonly accepted number.

*Of the assumed 21 species, 18 are thought to be at the risk of extinction, with fishing the main threat.

*An albatross is the central emblem in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a metaphor used in Charles Baudelaire’s poetry.

*The name albatross is derived from the Arabic meaning for “a pelican” and the Portuguese form Alcatraz, which is also the origin of the name of the former prison.

*Albatrosses pair for life. If their partner dies they may search for years for a new mate without luck.

*The bird has a low reproductive rate, with many producing only one egg a year, and has a life expectancy of 60. They spend most of their lives at sea and can sleep on the ocean.

*A grey-headed albatross from south Georgia was recorded flying around the world in 46 days.

*Albatrosses depend on strong winds to fly efficiently so the equatorial doldrums acts as a barrier.

*Albatrosses can be found in every ocean except the North Atlantic.

Suggested Topics
Travel
travel
Sport
football
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Engineer

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...

Sales Representative, Leicester

£25-£30k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major well established nationwide market...

Sales Representative, Birmingham

£25-£30k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major well established nationwide market...

HR Administration Manager - Hounslow, West London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Administration Manager...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment