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Tracking data for iconic Australian albatross uncovers important information for conservation and management

Seabirds depend on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as a safe haven for feeding, especially during their breeding season when adults spend days out at sea foraging to feed their young.

But a new study from the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions has found sites chosen at random would be more effective than the current MPAs managed by the Commonwealth Government for protecting one of Australia’s most iconic, threatened seabirds - the endemic Shy Albatross.

The team of researchers from six leading institutions studied data collected on more than 100 shy albatross over 23 years to identify important at-sea habitat.
Incubating adults consistently foraged in waters to the northwest of Tasmania while post-fledglings occupied shelf waters around Tasmania and South Australia.
Shy albatross home ranges (95% utilization distribution (UD)) and core foraging areas (50% UD) of (a) early incubating (n = 99) and (b) post-fledgling (n = 12) shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta) from Albatross Island, Tasmania from data collected between 1993 and 2015.

The researchers simulated a “random” MPA network 1000 times, and then averaged the coverage provided to the albatross foraging areas. For incubating birds, coverage of their home range by the random network was 30 per cent greater than the current MPA network. For juveniles, the random network provided 12 per cent more coverage.

When the analysis just used “no-take” MPAs (the highest level of protection and no fishing activity allowed), coverage for both life stages was reduced dramatically.

They found that the Commonwealth Government manages about 90 per cent of the important foraging area for shy albatross. Although we are moving forward in shy albatross conservation on many fronts, including climate change adaptation and bycatch mitigation, this study shows that marine spatial protection for this species is lacking.

This research shows how long-term tracking data can be useful for conservation and management.

By defining important habitat for threatened species, and assessing the current conservation measures, responsible agencies can move forward with more information. An increase of productive shelf waters in Commonwealth MPA networks would benefit the conservation of shy albatross through reducing fisheries interactions and protecting important habitat.

The outcomes of this study can be used for designing MPAs, targeted spatial and temporal management of fisheries, and decision-making for offshore development and resource use.

Credits:

Created with images by Nareeta Martin - "Mollymawk Seabird"

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