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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006, 15:11 GMT
Duty to save albatross - Charles
Prince Charles alongside two albatrosses (Image: PA)
Prince Charles applauds efforts to halt the birds' decline
Prince Charles has said he believes the world has a duty to save the endangered albatross from extinction.

The heir to the British throne said the demise of the iconic sea-bird would be "such an appalling commentary on the way we treat the world".

Campaigners say about 100,000 birds drown each year after becoming caught on longline fishing hooks.

The Prince of Wales made his comments in TVE's Earth Report programme, to be broadcast on BBC World this weekend.

"I feel it our duty to ensure that we do not lose any species if we possibly can help it," he told the programme.

Unintentional catch

Campaigners said the birds were primarily being killed unintentionally by longline fishing boats operating in the Southern Ocean.

The vessels use lines up to 120 km (75 miles) long, each with thousands of baited hooks, to catch species such as tuna and swordfish.

Black-browed albatross (Image: Grahame Madge/Save the albatross)
Threatened icon: Black-browed albatross (Image: Grahame Madge/Save the albatross)

"There are 21 species of albatross in the world, and 19 of those are classified as being under threat of extinction," Ben Sullivan, of BirdLife International, told the programme.

Mr Sullivan said the population of black-browed albatross in South Georgia was declining by about 3-4% each year.

"There are many of these species that are declining at a rate that is clearly unsustainable," he added.

Conservationists are working with fishing fleets in the region to cut the number of birds being caught on the lines.

Because albatrosses were only active during daylight, conservationists said that night-time fishing cut the number of fatalities considerably.

These mitigation measures have been shown to reduce the damage to albatrosses to almost zero
Prince Charles

But there were also measures that could be used during daylight hours, Mr Sullivan suggested.

"Adding weights to the lines means that the lines sink more quickly, so the quicker they sink, the faster they are out of reach of albatross and other sea-birds," he said.

Streamer lines, a rope tied to the end of the vessel with a buoy at one end and a series of streamers hanging from the line, were another option.

"The cost of a streamer line, at about $50 (26), is nothing compared with the value of any of the high target species such as tuna or swordfish, which can be worth several thousand dollars for a single fish," Mr Sullivan revealed.

Some fishing crews said they preferred to find fish on their hooks, not birds.

"I didn't know it was so easy to avoid catching birds, because... longliners and fishermen don't want birds in the line, because they tangle the lines and they avoid having a good catch," a captain of one boat said.

Illegal fishing

Prince Charles applauded the efforts of the conservation groups: "These mitigation measures have been shown to reduce the damage to albatrosses to almost zero.

"So how do you then get the message across that these measures should be used at all times in all these fishing areas?" he asked.

Campaigners estimate that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing was responsible for up to a quarter of all albatross deaths.

They said these vessels were not interested in efforts to reduce the number of birds caught on the lines, and the sheer scale of the Southern Ocean made it difficult to patrol.

The prince concluded: "A lot is dependent on the retailers and big stores - they also can make a huge difference by deciding that they are going to obtain their fish only from certified stocks."

The Television Trust for the Environment's (TVE) Earth Report - Race to Save the Albatross - will be broadcast on BBC World between 11-13 November 2006. Please check schedules for further details

Action plan for iconic seabirds
27 Sep 06 |  Science/Nature
Albatross numbers take steep dive
04 Jun 06 |  Science/Nature
Backing for albatross campaign
07 Oct 05 |  Science/Nature
MacArthur gives albatross support
27 Apr 05 |  Science/Nature
Tracking reveals albatross habits
14 Jan 05 |  Science/Nature

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