Blog by Alexis Osborne
The primary threat to the seabirds of Gough Island are invasive non-native mice, but although remote, the seabirds breeding on Gough Island are not exempt from human threats either - whether that be invasive species brought to the island on ships, plastics or fishing lines.
As biologists working on seabirds we always read and see the dramatic photos of seabirds caught on fishing hooks, but when you see it up close and personal, it is somewhat of a different story.
While conducting research a couple of weeks ago on Gough Island we noticed something unusual around the neck of an Atlantic Yellow-nosed albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos).
On closer inspection we realised it seemed to be fishing gear. After catching the bird to have a better inspection, we found that it had a piece of string around its neck, together with a swivel and snap, a device to which the hook and sinker are attached to prevent the line from tangling - normally used in long-line fisheries. After carefully removing it, to our relief the bird had not sustained any injuries.
We’re pleased to report that this story had a happy ending. However, often these birds are not so lucky to escape without any injuries. A few weeks ago, Chris also found a hook next to a nest of an incubating Atlantic Yellow-nosed albatross, which sadly could have put the parent or chick at risk if we’d not picked it up.
These birds travel thousands of kilometers in search of food and often scavenge around long-line fishing vessels, which can be fatal to them. Albatrosses and petrels are getting killed as they’re hooked or entangled in nets and lines, dragged underwater and then drowned as the fishing gear sinks.
Fortunately, there are a number of organisations around the world working together to reduce accidental by-catch of seabirds. As well as the Gough Island Restoration the RSPB is part of BirdLife's Albatross Task Force, which focuses on by-catch issues. It is thanks to generous individuals and organisations like yourselves that these important projects can go ahead, and we need your continued support to help us build a brighter future for seabirds.
Acknowledgement The Gough Island Restoration Programme is being carried out by the RSPB in partnership with Tristan da Cunha , BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa and Island Conservation . The programme is part-funded by the RSPB, the UK Government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other generous individuals and organisations.