Seabird Protection

The Southern Ocean is particularly renowned for its internationally important populations of albatrosses and petrels.
Albatrosses spend most of their lives in flight returning to land, frequently sub-Antarctic islands, to nest. One of the two primary threats to Southern Ocean seabirds relates to their foraging life at sea - bycatch on longlines and in trawls still kills many thousands of albatrosses and petrels each year. The second major threat comes while the birds are ashore from invasive species which destroy nesting habitat or feeding on eggs and defenceless young birds.


Bycatch remains a significant threat to albatross and other Southern Ocean seabird populations, however there has been a major success in the introduction of mitigation techniques in the CCAMLR region.

In the 2005/06 fishing season, for the fist time there was no reported bycatch of albatrosses in regulated longline fisheries. This doesn't however mean that no albatross are dying since the IUU fishing bycatch of albatross is not recorded. In addition, there is now recognised to be a bycatch of seabirds in trawls, and albatross and other Southern Ocean species are still being caught by longliners outside of the CCAMLR sea area. For more information, check out our fisheries section.

Invasive Species

Invasive or alien species such as cats, rabbits, rats and mice, were introduced along with other animals to offshore Southern Ocean islands in the 1800s by mariners and sealers. More recently introductions come from scientific, tourist and fishing boats. These invasive species now threaten many seabird populations, including endangered albatrosses. Cats, rats and mice attack nests to eat eggs and can kill both adult birds and chicks. Rabbits destroy valuable habitats used by seabirds for nesting.

A strong relationship has been established between the numbers of humans that visit an island and the numbers of species that have successfully been introduced to an island. More recently it seems that invasive species are now being found in the Southern Ocean - the North Atlantic spider crab is suspected to have become established and it is unlikely that it could have migrated such a great distance.

WWF is an active participant in intergovernmental processes related to strengthening action on invasive species eradication and control, particularly where they impact on threatened species and high conservation value islands.

Macquarie Island (Australia)

World Heritage Site, Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean, is home to nearly 4 million seabirds. Macquarie Island is home to 89 indigenous species of which 20 are unique to Macquarie. A further 20 species have been introduced. It is believed that alien species led to the extinction of two endemic bird species - the Macquarie Island rail and the Macquarie Island red-crowned parakeet.

Today, the distinctive tussock grasses and coastal slopes that provide shelter and nesting materials for the seabirds are being destroyed by invasive species, resulting in a major increase in land slips. The rabbit population has exploded since the 1980s from 10,000 to more than 100,000. In addition, rats attack nests to eat eggs and both chicks and adult birds. Elimination programmes to removed introduced species do work! Feral cats were eliminated from Macquarie Island in 2000 and in March 2001, it was reported that the endangered grey petrel had returned to nest after a long absence.

Macquarie Island lies 1500km south-east of Tasmania in the Southern Ocean. Politically it is part of the Australian State of Tasmania. WWF has been calling on the Australian and Tasmanian governments to make Macquarie Island feral and weed proof. All rodents and rabbits must be eliminated. In late 2006, WWF and Peregrine Adventures donated AUS $100,000 to start eradicating the pests on Macquarie Island.

The funding was put towards an automatic Weather Station to amongst other things collect wind data from the island's higher areas to ensure efficient and effective dispersal of baits in these areas. Earlier in 2007, WWF joined a re-supply expedition to the island to report on the invasives damage first hand and to assist in the installation of the weather station. The blog is on-line at:

At a World Heritage Committee meeting in June 2007, Christchurch, New Zealand the threat to Macquarie Island from invasive species was under consideration. However, following a recent commitment (4 June, 2007) from the Tasmanian and the Australian Federal governments to fund a rabbit and rodent eradication programme there is now a strong hope that the threat will be eliminated quickly, but action must not be delayed to implement the eradication programme.

The Tasmanian and Australian governments commitment to fully fund the Macquarie Island eradication plan sets and important precedent for the prioritisation and management of other high conservation value islands. It also demonstrates the important role that an NGO such as WWF can play in lobbying governments for funding of island eradications, and the value of corporate partnerships (such as the WWF-Australia & Peregrine Adventures partnership) in strengthening such a campaign.

WWF-Australia also recently lodged a submission to up-list Grey-headed albatross from Vulnerable to Endangered under Federal environment laws, since its breeding habitat has been degraded by severe rabbit overgrazing inducing landslips. Only 80 breeding pairs nest on a small part of the island, and as this is the only Australian population, their extinction would cause their extinction in Australia. Again, the recent commitment from the Australian and Tasmanian governments to fund the eradication programme should alleviate the threat.

Campbell Island (New Zealand)

On Campbell Island (NZ) the world's largest rat eradication programme started in 2001, and in 2004 Campbell Island was confirmed rat-free. Since then vegetation and invertebrates have been recovering, seabirds have been returning and the Campbell Island teas  - the world's rarest duck - has been reintroduced.

Other Southern Ocean Islands and invasive species

The islands of the Southern Ocean are considered to be of considerable conservation importance. Many are designated as protected areas at a national level and a number have been nominated as World Heritage Sites. Invasive or alien species have been introduced to the islands over the last cenuries, both accidentally and deliberately, by fishing vessels, research vessels, and increasingly tourism vessels with devastating consequences for the indigenous biodiversity.

A scientific paper published in 2001, indicated that protection of an optimally selected set of 15 island would result in protection of around 90% of higher plants, insects and bird taxa (not total numbers) found on Southern Ocean' islands. Such protection would require action by only 6 countries: Australia, New Zealand, France, South Africa, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

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© WWF-New Zealand
© WWF-New Zealand