Tragedy hits albatross ‘race’

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An annual race of endangered albatrosses from Australia to South Africa has ended in tragedy with all 18 competitors dying along the 10 000km route, organisers said on Monday.

The Big Bird Race, which aims to raise international awareness about the dangers of longline fishing to the albatross and other marine life, began on May 2 from Australia’s island state of Tasmania.

The race, organised by British betting company Ladbrokes, the Conservation Foundation and the Tasmanian government, allows punters to bet on which bird makes it across the Southern Ocean first with funds donated to marine conservation efforts.

Satellite transmitters were used to track 18 juvenile albatrosses on this year’s annual migration.

A tragic warning

But one-by-one the birds all disappeared in what conservation biologist Tim Nevard, the race coordinator, called a tragic warning for the fragile breed.

“What it shows is what kind of a knife edge these birds are poised on,” Nevard told the Australian domestic news agency AAP.

“Any additional pressure put on these birds could well tip them over the edge into extinction.”

Researchers expect some deaths during the three-month crossing of the southern ocean, but last year just three of 20 birds failing to finish the migration.

“The way the signals have gradually gone offline it’s very, very clear (the birds died),” Nevard said.

Conservationists say longlining, the practice of fishing with hooked and baited lines up to 120km long, kills hundreds of thousands of sea birds each year, including those from the 19 species of albatross currently listed as endangered.

Source: News24 (RSA)