Australia has offered to establish a permanent secretariat in Hobart for the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP).

Mr Greg Hunt, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, made the undertaking when he officially opened the historic first Meeting of Parties at ACAP in Hobart this morning.

Mr Hunt said that Hobart would be an ideal location for the secretariat as it already had the international secretariats for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP).

Hobart is also home to the Australian Antarctic Division, the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC), the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies (IASOS), CSIRO Marine Research and other like bodies.

“The development of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels was a key initiative of the Australian Government. We have actively promoted ACAP and currently provide interim secretariat services,” Mr Hunt said.

“We are now keen to take the next logical step and fund a permanent home in Hobart for the ACAP secretariat and are delighted that the Tasmanian Government is supporting this Commonwealth initiative with the offer of office accommodation to house the secretariat.

“Albatrosses and petrels are top-order predators of the marine ecosystem but their existence is threatened globally at sea and on land.

“At sea the threats 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, competition with other animals for nest space, and parasites and disease.

“But by far the most devastating impact on albatrosses and petrels is from longline fishing, which is still practised by several nations. Scientists estimate that hundreds of thousands of these imposing seabirds are killed each year through longline fishing.

“Breeding populations of some species have diminished to the extent that to do nothing will lead to their extinction,” Mr Hunt said.

ACAP came into force on 1 February 2004 following the ratification of six Parties — Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, Spain, the Republic of South Africa and the United Kingdom. Five other countries — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France and Peru — have signed the agreement, but have yet to ratify it.

Mr Hunt said the Meeting of Parties to the Agreement of the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels would be working on an action plan to ensure the reduction of needless seabird deaths.