In some species of albatross and petrels, the rate of decline is so serious that extinction is a very real possibility before the year 2050. This was the bald warning issued last week by ornithologist, Dr. Andrew Douse, speaking on the Falkland Islands Radio programme, Conservation Conversation.
Dr. Douse, who is currently working on a Bio-Diversity strategy for the Falkland Islands, was reporting on the first meeting of parties to the international Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels (ACAP) which came into force in February 2004. ACAP is an agreement which deals exclusively with the twenty-one species of albatross and a number of species of petrel and is there to help arrest the problems of major decline of all these species.
The meeting, which was also attended by Falkland Islands Deputy Governor and Director of Fisheries for South Georgia, Harriet Hall, was held last month in Hobart, Tasmania. Both Miss Hall and Dr. Douse were part of the UK Delegation.
The UK is a party to the Agreement and specifically at the time of the UK ratification of the Agreement, the Falkland Islands was included, along with South Georgia and the British Antarctic Territory. There are a number of species in the Falklands, like Black-browed Albatross, Giant Petrel and White-Chinned Petrel, which come under the terms of the Agreement.
Dr. Douse explained to FIBS listeners that although the reasons for the decline in albatross numbers were generally understood, the decline was continuing. These birds spent much of their life on the high seas, crossing in and out of areas of national jurisdiction in their wanderings, and so the conservation effort had to be international; action by individual states was not sufficient. It was the purpose of ACAP to provide the necessary coordination of this international effort.
The ACAP meeting lasted for five days beginning with a two-day Scientific Meeting. where the action plan was agreed and the science behind it reviewed in detail. A particular, and according to Dr .Douse, potentially very productive area of the action plan is related to interaction between ACAP and regional fisheries organisations. Also covered were the control of non-native species and the management of breeding sites.
The Scientific Meeting was followed by a three day formal Meeting of Parties, which brought all the parties to the Agreement together to agree a number of issues, including the budget and where the Agreement Secretariat was to be located, which had to be decided early on, according to the text of the Agreement.
There are six countries which have ratified the Agreement: South Africa, Australia, Ecuador, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Spain. All were present, except Ecuador, which had offered to host the Secretariat in the Galapagos Islands. A number of other governments were represented, some like Argentina, Brazil and France as signatories and a wide range of non-governmental organisations.
This first ACAP gathering was, said Dr. Douse, "a truly international meeting", only slightly marred for the participants from the Falkland Islands by the now almost traditional protest at their presence from the Argentine delegation.
John Fowler (MP) Stanley .