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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 15:01 GMT
Albatross campaign reaches NZ
By Kim Griggs

Albatross in flight   Peter Moore
Longline fishing kills an estimated 100,000 albatrosses annually (Image courtesy of Peter Moore)

Each spring, when the first northern royal albatross arrives in New Zealand after its annual sojourn in the southern ocean, church bells in the far south of New Zealand ring out to signal its return.

Last year on 11 September, the bells of 18 churches in the southern city of Dunedin and beyond pealed their welcome to Lesley, the first bird to return to the colony for the austral summer.

But the 150 or so northern royal albatrosses that breed at what is thought to be the only breeding colony on a mainland anywhere are, like so many others, under threat.

It is the poor outlook for the world's two dozen or so species of albatross that British sailor John Ridgway is highlighting with a round-the-world voyage.

Greater action

Having started out from Scotland in July last year Ridgway, his wife Marie Christine, and a volunteer crew, are now following the seabird's circumpolar route from Cape Town to Australasia and then back around to Cape Town and home.

This past weekend Ridgway, who rowed across the Atlantic ocean with Chay Blyth in 1966, and Marie Christine reached the half-way point of their voyage, New Zealand.

"This, essentially, is two old-age pensioners sailing around the world to save the albatross," Ridgway told BBC News Online.

Lesley the albatross   George Chance
Lesley on her nest (Image courtesy of George Chance)
But the English Rose VI crew are also aiming to gather signatures on a petition to the United Nations urging its Food and Agriculture Organisation to take more action to end pirate fishing.

Conservation lobby group BirdLife International says pirate fishing in the southern ocean kills more than 100,000 seabirds - including tens of thousands of albatrosses - each year.

And longline fishing in general is estimated to kill 300,000 seabirds a year, including 100,000 albatrosses.

Global petition

According to the Red List of Threatened Species, two species of albatross are critically endangered, seven are endangered and 10 are vulnerable.

So far, says Carol Knutson, who is coordinating the petition for New Zealand lobbyists Forest and Bird, and who sailed from Melbourne with the Ridgways, close to 10,000 signatures have been gathered.

"It is significant because the United Nations has never heard from the public about pirate fishing," she said.

Ridgway and representatives of conservation organisations will present the petition to the FAO in June this year.

English Rose VI   Kim Griggs
The Ridgways left the UK last July
Ridgway, who has visited the southern ocean at some point in each of the past six decades, says it would be criminal to lose the ocean's most magnificent bird.

"This is an attempt to do something, to try to pay back the very good life we've had, and to try to prevent the albatross from becoming extinct."

Meanwhile, in the breeding colony on New Zealand's South Island, Lesley is incubating an egg, the first the 34-year-old has produced with 33-year-old Harold.

Treaty protection

Lesley had to find a new mate last summer after her long-time partner failed to make the journey back home.

Since Ridgway set out on his voyage, South Africa has become the fifth country to ratify the international treaty on albatross protection.

This should enable the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (Acap) to enter into force in February.

The treaty obliges signatories - New Zealand was one of the first - to act to reduce deaths on fishing lines, and to draw up wide-ranging plans to tackle other threats.

These include habitat loss, marine pollution, and rats, feral cats and other introduced species at the birds' breeding sites.

The campaign continues to get many more nations to be signatories.

Albatrosses to benefit from pact
17 Nov 03  |  Science/Nature
Albatrosses face growing peril
06 Sep 03  |  Science/Nature
Atlantic oarsman champions albatrosses
27 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature


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