2024 Albatross Day

Wednesday, 19 June 2024

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June 19 marks World Albatross Day, an occasion to celebrate these incredible ocean wanderers and raise awareness of the threats they continue to face. Nineteen of the 22 species of albatross in the world can be found in Australian waters, and 15 of these are globally threatened. 

Buller's Albatross in flight

The theme of this year’s World Albatross Day is “Marine Protected Areas – Safeguarding our Oceans”, which highlights the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as a tool to help conserve albatrosses and their marine environment. MPAs are designated areas of the ocean in which certain human activities may be restricted or prohibited, to help protect the marine environment (e.g. certain types of fishing, or drilling for oil and gas). 

Albatrosses spend the majority of their lives at sea, covering huge distances during migration and whilst foraging. Commercial fishing has been identified as the at-sea threat that affects the greatest number of albatross species — globally, tens of thousands of albatrosses die every year from incidental bycatch, and collision with or entanglement in fishing equipment. Overfishing of their prey species (fish, squid and krill) presents another serious problem.  

The establishment of MPAs can assist in conserving albatross species through the protection of the area immediately surrounding their breeding islands, as well as key areas of the ocean used for foraging and migration. The most effective MPAs for albatrosses must include “no take zones” that exclude all fishing activities.  

Expanding the Marine Protected Area around Macquarie Island 

Recently, BirdLife Australia successfully campaigned for expansion of the MPA around Australia’s subantarctic Macquarie Island. This will improve protection for this important breeding site for four albatross species. The MPA around Heard and McDonald Islands — Australia’s other two subantarctic islands — will soon be up for review, which presents another great opportunity to increase protection around albatross breeding locations. 

Historically, most MPAs have been designated by national or state governments within their own territorial waters. However, in 2023 a landmark treaty was signed by 84 nations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which will hopefully pave the way for establishment of MPAs in international waters, also known as the “high seas”.

Albatrosses spend a large proportion of their time in the high seas, which cover 45% of the globe. Protection of important areas of ocean beyond national jurisdiction is an essential step in halting the decline of our most magnificent seabirds.