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Albatrosses are amongst the most iconic species of the Southern Ocean. South Georgia is home to globally significant populations of wandering, black-browed, grey-headed and light-mantled albatrosses. These species are highly protected at South Georgia, both on land and at sea in our Marine Protected Area.
The population trends of South Georgia’s albatrosses are closely monitored at selected sites each year. This annual monitoring is complemented by archipelago-wide surveys every ten years or so, except for light-mantled albatrosses, whose dispersed breeding distribution make them difficult to survey. The most recent archipelago-wide survey was undertaken during the 2014/15 breeding season. The results of this survey revealed that the number of wandering albatrosses breeding annually at South Georgia decreased by 18% (1.8% per year) from 1,553 pairs in 2003/2004 to an estimated 1,278 pairs in 2014/2015. Over the same period, black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses decreased by 19% (1.9% per year) and 43% (5% per year), respectively. These represent a continuation of negative trends at South Georgia since the 1970s, and are in contrast to some populations elsewhere, which have shown signs of recent recovery. The main cause has been attributed to incidental mortality associated with fisheries operating outside of South Georgia’s maritime zone.
The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) has ratified via the United Kingdom (UK) Government, and actively participates in the work of, the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP). ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations. GSGSSI has also collaborated with the fishing industry to protect albatross in the waters around South Georgia. Modern fisheries management techniques have all but eliminated seabird bycatch in the maritime zone. Vessels fishing in South Georgia’s maritime zone are required to use a variety of seabird bycatch mitigation measures aimed at reducing or preventing bycatch. These include the use of bird-scaring devices and night setting, the use of which has helped reduce the bycatch of seabirds to negligible levels. This success has helped support the designation of the South Georgia toothfish fishery as the highest-scoring Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery in the world. However, the extensive at-sea range of albatrosses, extending many thousands of miles, brings them into contact with other, less well-managed, fisheries.
GSGSSI is now looking to better understand and address these external threats, and is delighted to be working in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to undertake an initial study that will identify where and when albatrosses are at risk so as to better target education, conservation and monitoring programmes.
Breeding on inaccessible cliffs and tussock covered slopes, these birds are generally surveyed by photographing colonies from the sea, and subsequently counting nesting birds from the digital photographs. Outside the breeding season the birds spend considerable time foraging in the productive waters of the Benguela Current, off southern Africa where they overlap with, and are at risk of being incidentally killed by a number of long-line and trawl fisheries.
Unlike the other species of albatross breeding at South Georgia, breeding light-mantled albatross are dispersed in low numbers around the entire coastline making it very difficult to monitor their population trends. Nevertheless, South Georgia is known to host the largest population of light-mantled albatross in the world. Considered to be the most southerly of all the albatross species, these birds often forage close to the Antarctic.
Often found nesting on high cliffs in mixed groups with black-browed albatross, grey-headed albatrosses only breed every other year making their populations particularly vulnerable to ongoing declines. Known to travel great distances outside of the breeding season, better understanding of where these birds forage at different stages of their life-cycle is critical to understanding what fisheries they come into contact with and where to target conservation efforts.
Wandering albatrosses are one of the largest flying birds in the world and have a wingspan of up to 3.5m. It takes an entire year to raise a chick. Nesting in small groups on isolated headlands and tussock islands, the majority of birds breeding at South Georgia are found on Bird Island and Annenkov Island, with other colonies located in the Bay of Isles and along the southern coast of the archipelago. Surveying these long-lived species requires good local knowledge and great care to avoid disturbing the birds or the habitat in which they nest.
Artist: Leigh-Anne Wolfaardt
Printer: Cartor Security Printing
Process: Stochastic lithography
Perforation: 13 ¼ x 13 per 2cms
Stamp size: 38 x 30.6mm
Sheet Layout: 10
Souvenir Sheet size: 164 x 136mm
Release date: 25 June, 2017
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd
RSPB crest and name © RSPB and reproduced with authorisation of RSPB, registered trademark owner
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