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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

18 February 2003

Ecuador Follows Australia's Lead in the Protection of Albatrosses and Petrels

Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today welcomed Ecuador's membership to the international Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, which marks an important step forward in the campaign to protect the world's rarest seabirds.

"Australia is at the forefront in conserving Southern Hemisphere albatrosses and petrels by pursuing an international conservation agreement for these magnificent but severely threatened seabirds," Dr Kemp said.

"Australia and New Zealand led the way by ratifying the Agreement in 2001. Ecuador is the first South American, and the third country to ratify, recognising the importance of the Agreement. The Agreement requires the ratification of five countries to come into force."

Ambassador of Ecuador, His Excellency, Dr Abelardo Posso-Serrano, today signed the Agreement and submitted an Instrument of Ratification on behalf of his country at a ceremony in Canberra.

The Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador are the sole breeding area for the waved albatross. Ecuador has exemplary management measures in place for this area, recognising its importance as a breeding habitat for waved albatrosses and a range of other wildlife species.

Albatrosses and petrels are top-order predators of the marine ecosystem but their existence is threatened globally at sea and on land. Threatening factors at sea include direct contact with fishing operations; consumption of and entanglement in marine debris; contamination from pollutants; and over-fishing of their prey. In breeding colonies, they are threatened by predators, particularly feral pests; introduced herbivores which damage their nesting habitat when grazing; competition with other animals for nest space; parasites and disease.

"The biggest threat to these threatened birds is the devastating impact of longline fishing. Scientists estimate around 250,000 seabirds have been killed from longline fishing practices in the Southern Hemisphere in the last three years," Dr Kemp said.

"The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, initiated by Australia in 1997, provides countries around the world with the information and techniques needed to protect these rare seabirds.

"This includes the exchange of information on mitigation measures aimed at protecting these birds from fishing practices; monitoring and managing seabird populations; monitoring conservation measures and their effect on breeding and habitats; and introducing effective scientific and administrative programs."

During the last decade, Australia has adopted a three-pronged approach to seabird conservation.

  1. Assessing the conservation status of seabirds and listing threatened species under relevant State legislation and the Commonwealth legislation;
  2. Identifying threats to seabirds and developing national threat abatement plans; and
  3. Facilitating cooperative international action to complement domestic conservation actions.

In Australia, there are 23 albatross and giant petrel species, 19 of which are listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. On-ground protection for these long-lived birds is provided through a Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Giant Petrels which was introduced in 2001 and covers all 23 species.

"While population trends for many albatross and petrel species are still to be determined, research shows population trends for species such as the wandering albatross, black browed albatross, grey headed albatross and southern giant petrels have been on a continual decline over the last 20 years," Dr Kemp said.

"I urge all States and fishing nations that interact with albatrosses and petrels to follow Ecuador's example and make a commitment to protect the ongoing survival of these important species. This can be done by modifying their activities carried out in the southern ocean that impact the existence of these birds and by ratifying the Agreement."

The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels is the first integrated and holistic approach to albatross and petrel conservation throughout the Southern Hemisphere. It contains guidelines to better coordinate conservation efforts on land and at sea.

The Agreement also provides a central point for the collection and analysis of data which will be used to develop a comprehensive record of albatross and petrel populations globally.

Media contact:
Dr Peter Poggioli 6277 7640 or 0412 970 063

Commonwealth of Australia