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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
Thursday, 6 November 2003
Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am pleased to be here today to witness this significant occasion as South Africa ratifies the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. Particularly because the ratification of South Africa will see this important agreement enter into force.
Albatrosses and petrels are perhaps the most threatened group of birds in the world. 83% the world's 24 species of albatrosses are considered endangered, which compares with 11% of birds species overall. For some populations in Australia such as the Macquarie Island wandering albatross, numbers remain so low (less than 10 breeding pairs each year) that they remain threatened with imminent extinction.
Currently the greatest threat to albatrosses and petrels is ensnarement in longline fishing operations. Here in Australia we have developed a Threat Abatement Plan to save seabirds drowning on longlines, which has reduced the bycatch of albatrosses by 90% over the last five years through a mix of new 'bird-friendly' fishing techniques to sink fishing lines faster, and changes to fishing practices to ensure lines are set at night when birds aren't active.
We have also moved to provide on-ground protection for these long-lived birds through a Recovery Plan. Introduced in 2001 and covering all of the 23 species of Albatrosses and Giant Petrels which frequent Australian waters it has resulted in the protection of critical breeding habitat from destruction by feral animals such as rabbits, and the provision of $1.2 million from the Australian Government's Natural Heritage Trust to eradicate feral cats from Macquarie Island, which is an important breeding site for 6 threatened species.
However, actions within one country's boundaries are not enough to halt the population declines for highly migratory species such as the shy albatross,for example. This species breeds in southern Australian waters, but spends the first couple of years of life in South African waters, migrating across international waters to do so. Clearly, conservation of highly migratory species such as albatrosses and petrels cannot be achieved by one country acting independently of other nations that share the same species.
This is why the Agreement on Albatrosses and Petrels is so important for the conservation of these magnificent birds. This agreement will help to improve the conservation status of albatrosses and petrels by seeking concerted action by parties to protect critical breeding habitat; control non-native species detrimental to albatrosses and petrels; implement measures to reduce the incidental catch of seabirds in longline fisheries; and support research into the effective conservation of albatrosses and petrels.
I believe that South Africa, through signing the Agreement today, is making a significant contribution to the fight to protect albatrosses and petrels by demonstrating their commitment to the implementation of this critical Agreement. South Africa is home to important populations of seabirds, and has taken considerable steps to protect these seabird colonies.
I would like to commend the proactive approach South Africa is taking today, and hope to see South Africa become an actively engaged participant in the implementation of the Agreement.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce His Excellency, Mr Anthony Mongalo, the High Commissioner of South Africa, to sign the Agreement and ratify on behalf of his country today.