Yachtswoman rallies to aid albatross

Record-breaking yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur has joined forces with the Prince of Wales in an attempt to save the albatross from extinction.

It is estimated that 100,000 albatrosses are killed each year, snared on the hooks of fishing boats.

Dame Ellen and Prince Charles are lending their voices to a RSPB campaign to show fishermen how to avoid trapping the birds on their lines.

The RSPB says simple changes in fishing techniques can make a huge difference.

“The plight of the albatross is one of the most critical issues we have faced and the support of the Prince of Wales and Ellen MacArthur is invaluable,” Graham Wynne, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), said.

“Without urgent action, the albatross will soon be gone for good.”

Dame Ellen MacArthur is joining the campaign partly because albatrosses kept her company during her epic battles with the Southern Ocean.

“They are such graceful birds…. and to see them out there, so far away from land, you feel you are not alone,” she told BBC News.

“I remember on my first round-the-world trip, I was right at the front of the boat and I looked up and a few feet away was an albatross, looking straight at me.

“There was a communication between me and that bird and to feel that, in the middle of nowhere, when you’ve seen no land for weeks, is extraordinary.”

However, this unlikely kind of companionship is under threat because 19 of the 21 species of albatross face an uncertain future.

Ultimate test

According to the RSPB, more than one billion hooks are set by the world’s long-line fleets each year, killing at least 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses.

At a special gala dinner on Wednesday, the Prince of Wales and Dame Ellen will rally support for Operation Ocean Task Force – a new RSPB and BirdLife International plan to train fishermen how best to avoid seabird deaths.

“To me, the albatross may be the ultimate test of whether or not, as a species ourselves, we are serious about conservation: capable of co-existing on this planet with other species,” said the Prince.

The RSPB and BirdLife International say new technology does exist that could dramatically reduce seabird causalities.

The measures are often simple and inexpensive, they claim, such as weighting lines to make them sink faster.

However, well-intentioned fishermen often do not realise what a difference such small changes can make, the groups add.

Instructors from Operation Ocean Task Force will hold workshops and take fishing trips to brief fishermen on a range of “best practice” mitigation measures which, the organisers believe, could bring the albatross back from the brink.

Dame Ellen says it will be a tragedy if the bird is not saved.

“The albatross lives in the middle of nowhere,” she explained. “They don’t affect man, but man is affecting them. I think that is very sad.

“I would be really, really upset – as would many people – if the albatross disappeared

Source: BBC