Antarctic tourists support seabird conservation

The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) is a 69-member organisation dedicated to sustainable private-sector tourism in Antarctica and the subantarctic. Each year more than 20 000 tourists visit Antarctica with IAATO, with most people travelling by cruise ship. As part of their onboard entertainment, passengers are given a series of lectures by ship staff on subjects ranging from Antarctic clothing to international law and the Antarctic Treaty. In 2002 the AAD provided IAATO with a lecture titled ‘seabird conservation in fisheries’. The lecture informs passengers about seabird mortality occurring in longline and trawl fisheries operating in the southern hemisphere, and raises money for conservation efforts. Donations are sent to Birds Australia, the Melbourne-based partner to Birdlife International. The lecture and the fund raising drive fall within the gambit of Birdlife’s Save-the-Albatross campaign, a global initiative to reduce the number of albatrosses and petrels that die from interactions with fishing gear.

Each year the availability of funds raised during the previous summer’s cruise season is advertised on the internet and Birdlife’s web site. Applicants are invited to submit proposals addressing three themes: actions to reduce seabird mortality in fisheries, ecological research on fisheries-vulnerable seabird populations and political actions that underpin conservation efforts. Proposals are assessed by a 10-person advisory group consisting of specialists from Argentina, Chile, Falkland Islands, UK, Spain, USA, New Zealand and Australia. The winning applicants are notified of their award in August each year and funds are distributed via Birds Australia in September. This coincides with the commencement of the breeding season for southern hemisphere seabirds, when many sea-based and land-based conservation projects are likely to commence.

In 2002, the first year of the lecture, passengers donated US$5000 to the campaign. This grew to US$20 000 in 2003 and US$54 000 in 2004. The advisory group has used these funds to support seabird conservation projects in South Africa, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, the Falkland Islands and New Zealand. Projects include: the development and testing of longlines that sink quickly and minimise the incidence of seabird capture; development of devices to prevent fatal collision by seabirds with trawler net cables; and assessment of seabird mortality levels in critical southern hemisphere fisheries.

Projects such as these directly and indirectly help reduce the number of seabirds that die needlessly each year in the world’s oceans. Passengers onboard IAATO vessels have contributed substantially to efforts to make fisheries more seabird-safe and are to be commended for their continued generosity and support for this worthwhile initiative. More information is available on the Birds Australia website.

Graham Robertson, Southern Ocean Ecosystems Programme, AAD