Tasmania trials artificial shy albatross nests to help seabird fight extinction

Conservationists say threatened seabird is vulnerable to the environmental effects of rising air temperatures and warming oceans caused by climate change

Tasmanian scientists will trial a new tactic this spring to help the shy albatross fight extinction: constructing artificial nests.

Conservationists hope the nests will boost the population of the threatened seabird, which they believe is vulnerable to the environmental effects of climate change.

Shy albatrosses only breed on three remote Tasmanian islands in the Bass Straight, which host an estimated 1,500 breeding pairs. Scientists believe rising air temperatures during the chick-rearing period are lowering survival rates, and warming oceans mean birds have to travel further to find food for their children.

Rachael Alderman, who has been studying the birds since 2003, said she hoped the artificial nests would boost the number of chicks that survive.

“The species is particularly vulnerable to rapid change because of their biology,” she said. “They only lay one egg each year. They live for a long time. And they have what we would call a low reproductive outcome.”

Alderman said shy albatrosses form long-term monogamous pair bonds and have elaborate courtship rituals, which means they usually do not mate until they are up to eight years old.

“Their strategy in life is to live long and put lots of energy into their individual breeding attempts. So if something happens to make that harder to achieve, their populations really do suffer.”

With $110,000 from the federal government, as well as funding from the Tasmanian Department of theEnvironment, the CSIRO and WWF Australia, Alderman plans to install 100 nests this year before the breeding season starts in September.

The nests will be approximately 1 metre wide and 30cm high.

The shy albatross is listed as “vulnerable” by the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. According to the international union for the conservation of nature, the bird was historically killed as part of the feather trade and reduced to a population of 600 in the 19th century. By 2004 it had reached only 25% of its pre-exploitation population.

WWF Australia’s head of living ecosystems, Darren Grover, said scientists would also place satellite trackers on new chicks and juvenile birds, and praised the nests for being an “innovative idea”.

“It’s often really difficult to have a level of impact for marine species, especially when species like albatrosses spend so much time at sea. So having an impact on breeding islands is a great opportunity to help the population.

“[Satellite trackers] will give researchers a better idea of where the birds are going, whether they are interacting with fishing, and tracking where they are getting food.”

Shy albatrosses have an average wingspan of 220cm to 256cm, and an average weight of 4.1 kg. The bird ordinarily ranges across southern Australia, from as far west as Carnarvon in Perth and north-east as Stradbroke Island in Queensland.

They lay only one egg per breeding period and incubate it for 72 days. Both parents then spend approximately five months feeding and caring for the chick before it becomes independent.


Naaman Zhou

The GuardianTramp

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