As several readers would know, my interests in conservation are at times complex. Field trips with Neville Coleman, feral animal management, bird watching, my diving and work with Project AWARE have all contributed to a deep appreciation of our wildlife around the world. It was therefore very disheartening to hear that the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) of that ancient legend is in very serious decline. In fact, 19 of the 21 species of albatross are now officially listed as endangered. Even more concerning is the fact, and according to the most recent data available, over 300,000 seabirds fall victim to long lines each year with these fishing fleets operating with impunity on the high seas. It is estimated that over 100,000 albatross alone contribute to these extremely alarming fatalities as these giant birds are unwittingly and fatally lured into a quick and easy meal.
Even sadder is much of this carnage could be avoided if those fleets operating in say the sub-Antarctic region were to follow some simple rules laid down by CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources). They include no-brainers like sinking baits to deeper depths and deploying long lines at night when albatross and other sea birds are not as active. Unfortunately, these rules are not binding on all the nations represented in these fleets. It is gratifying however to know that the Australian and Great Britain fleets have adopted these rules and good on them. There are only 10 breeding pairs of Wandering Albatross left on Macquarie Island – World heritage Listed, once a major rookery. I for one will miss these birds if they disappear from our oceans and skies. There is something very special about seeing a bird with a three and half metre wingspan gliding over the wake left by your dive boat. Unfortunately for all of us, the ancient mariner’s days may well be numbered.