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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
Australian Minister for Trade
The Hon. Mark Vaile
High Commissioner for South Africa
His Excellency Mr Anthony Mongalo

Thursday, 7 November 2003

Subject: Ratification of Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

Compere: Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it's my great pleasure to welcome you this morning to this extraordinary event, where we will be witnessing the signature and the ratification by the Republic of South Africa of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, an important treaty of which Australia is a depository, as well as the opening of the exhibition, Antarctica Treaty Territory.

Without any further delay, I would like to ask His Excellency, Anthony Mongalo, the High Commissioner of the Republic of South Africa to come forward to the signing table to sign the agreements on the conservation of albatrosses and petrels. Your Excellency.

His Excellency, Anthony Mongalo: [Signs Agreement]

Compere: Thank you very much, Your Excellency. Now I would like to invite the Honourable Mark Vaile, MP, Minister for Trade to say a few words followed by Your Excellency and the Honourable Dr Kemp.

Minister Vaile: Thanks very much. My Ministerial colleagues, Excellencies, and particularly the High Commissioner from the Republic of South Africa. It gives me a great deal of pleasure and I know I speak for all of us here this morning to witness South Africa's signature of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, or commonly known in the DFAT parlance as ACAP.

The Republic of South Africa is the fifth country to become a party meeting the threshold for ACAP's entry into force which will now occur on the 1st February next year, 2004. South African joins Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador and Spain as a party to ACAP. South Africa played a key role in the negotiation of ACAP and is home to many important populations of these sea birds including those on the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands.

South Africa is a world leader in research and conservation initiatives crucial to these species. Australia, as one of the key range states for albatrosses and petrels, initiated this agreement. Australia believes that international co-operation on albatross and petrel conservation such as exchange of information on threats enhances the prospects for successful conservation measures.

While individual nations are taking measures to protect albatrosses and petrels, these magnificent birds are susceptible to threats operating throughout their range. It is unlikely that conservation action by one nation will be effective. International action is required.

ACAP recognises that there are existing international instruments that contain some conservation measures relevant to sea birds, for example, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the FAO International Plan of Action for reducing incidental catch of birds in longline fisheries.

ACAP is a good example of the way in which co-operative and co-ordinated working relationships between international instruments can enhance inter-governmental efforts to predict our shared environment.

Australia places a high priority on ACAP as the most significant multilateral step in protecting these important and endangered sea birds from harmful fishing practices. Australia looks forward to working with South Africa as we are already working with New Zealand, Ecuador and Spain to further the aims of this agreement.

And ladies and gentlemen, could you join with me and congratulate South Africa on their accession to this agreement? [Applause]

Compere: I would now invite His Excellency the High Commissioner to hand to Mr Vaile the Instrument of Ratification of the Treaty.


His Excellency, Anthony Mongalo: The Honourable Mr Kemp, Dr Phillip Law, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Mr Buncy*, colleagues from relevant Australian agencies and bodies, ladies and gentlemen.

It is an honour for me to sign the Agreement on Albatrosses and Petrels today and to hand over the Instruments of Ratification to the Honourable Minister Kemp. With the signing of this Agreement today, South Africa commits itself to the letter and spirit of the Agreement. We welcome the entering into force of this Agreement as South Africa shares the concerns of the other countries who have already signed and ratified.

With these countries South Africa supports the measures necessary to protect albatrosses and petrels. All 28 species of albatrosses are killed as by-catch in longline operations. These birds attempt to snatch baited hooks as these hooks are being deployed and are then dragged beneath the sea surface and drowned.

South Africa regards the Agreement as of particular significance because it includes an actual plan which describes a number of conservation measures to be implemented by signatory states and to improve the conservation status of the threatened species of albatrosses and lighter petrels.

Ladies and gentlemen, South Africa is particularly important for the conservation of albatrosses and petrels. It is a [indistinct] stage to 15 of the 28 species covered under ACAP. South Africa's sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands are important breeding sites for nine of the species, most of which have a threatened conservation status.

The Prince Edward Islands are particularly important to the Wandering Albatrosses as they host more than 40% of the world's population of this species, which is the lightest of all albatrosses.

By joining ACAP, it is expected that South Africa will boost conservation related research on the Prince Edward Islands allowing for the best management of this important population of threatened species. Through South Africa's signing of this Agreement today, we wish to further strengthen our overall commitment to every aspect of nature and marine environment conservation. Thank you. [Applause]

Compere: Thank you, Your Excellency. I'd like to now invite the Honourable David Kemp, Minister for the Environment and Heritage to say a few words.

Minister Kemp: Your Excellency, High Commissioner for South Africa, my Ministerial colleague, Mark Vaile, all those who - Dr Phillip Law - all those who've been associated with the initiation and development and signature and ratification of this agreement.

It's an enormous personal pleasure for me to be here today to witness the ratification by South Africa and the coming into force in the very near future of this very important international Agreement. This Agreement has been with me since I've been in this portfolio. I've had the great satisfaction of raising the matter of this agreement with a number of Australia's friendly countries and partners. It's been a very great pleasure for me to have had the chance to promote this Agreement and to now be able to welcome South Africa, with your ratification of the Agreement, is I think a great moment for all of those who've been associated with it.

Albatrosses and petrels are perhaps the most threatened group of birds in the world. 83% of the world's 24 species of albatrosses are considered to be endangered, which compares with 11% of bird species overall. For some populations in Australia, such as the Macquarie Island Wandering Albatross, numbers remain so low there are less than 10 breeding pairs each year at the moment, that they remain threatened with imminent extinction.

Currently the greatest threat to albatrosses and petrels is ensnarement as the High Commissioner said in longline fishing operations. Here in Australia, I'm very proud to say that we have developed a threat abatement plan to save sea birds from drowning on longlines which has reduced the by-catch of albatrosses by 90% over the last five years, through a mix of bird-friendly fishing techniques to sink the fishing lines faster and changes to fishing practices to ensure that these lines are set at night when birds are not active.

We've also moved to on-the-ground protection for these long lived birds through a recovery plan. This plan introduced in 2001 and covering all 23 species of albatrosses and petrels which frequent Australian waters has resulted in the protection of critical breeding habitat from destruction by feral animals, such as rabbits, and the provision through the Natural Heritage Trust of $1.2 million to eradicate feral cats from Macquarie Island which is an important breeding site for some six of these threatened species.

As the High Commissioner said and Minister Vaile also made the point, one country alone cannot effectively take action to protect and preserve these species. It requires a high level of international co-operation. These species breed particularly in southern waters and it's very important that countries such as South Africa join the preservation effort. And we very much welcome the signature today.

Clearly the conservation of these birds is going to require continuing international partnerships for the exchange of relevant information to control non-native species and to support research into their conservation.

South Africa today is making a very significant contribution to the fight to protect albatrosses and petrels internationally. It is home, as the High Commissioner pointed out, to important species and populations of sea birds and South Africa has also taken important steps to conserve and protect the sea bird colonies.'

So it gives me very great pleasure today to thank His Excellency, Mr Anthony Mongalo, for signing the Agreement and for ratifying on behalf of his country today. And I would like to take this moment to present him with a commemorative pen to - so that he can remember this memorable occasion.

Your Excellency. [Applause]


Commonwealth of Australia