The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, or ACAP, is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.
Development of the Agreement commenced in 1999. It was concluded rapidly with only two meetings required to agree the text. These meetings, held in Hobart, Australia, and Cape Town, South Africa, were attended by 16 countries and five international organizations. ACAP was opened for signature in Canberra, Australia on 19 June 2001 and entered into force on 1 February 2004, at which time all Southern Hemisphere species of albatrosses and seven petrel species were listed under its auspices. Currently (January 2014) there are 13 Parties to the Agreement - Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. The Agreement’s Secretariat is located in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. ACAP is supported by a small Secretariat which consists of an Executive Secretary, a Science Officer and an honorary Information Officer.
The First Session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP1) was convened in November 2004 in Hobart, preceded by a two-day Scientific Meeting. A key outcome of MOP1 was the establishment of an Advisory Committee to guide the implementation of the Agreement. The Advisory Committee is supported by three working groups - the Population and Conservation Status Working Group, the Seabird Bycatch Working Group and the Taxonomy Working Group. Sessions of the Meeting of Parties are ordinarily held at three-year intervals, with the Advisory Committee and its working groups meeting in the intervening years.
ACAP focuses on any species, subspecies or population of albatrosses and petrels listed in its Annex 1. It currently covers all 22 of the World’s species of albatrosses of four genera, all seven species of petrels in the genera Macronectes (two species of giant petrels) and Procellaria and a single species of shearwater in the genus Puffinus, all of which belong to the avian tubenose order Procellariiformes. Twenty of the listed species carry a globally threatened status, ranging from Critically Endangered (four species), Endangered (five species) to Vulnerable (11 species). Eight species are considered to be Near Threatened and only two of the 30 ACAP-listed species (both giant petrels) are characterized as of Least Concern.
At the Third Session of the Meeting of Parties, held in Norway in 2009, the three North Pacific albatrosses (Short-tailed Phoebastria albatrus, Laysan P. immutabilis and Black-footed P. nigripes) were added to the Agreement. At the Fourth Session of the Meeting of Parties, held in Peru in 2012, the Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus, endemic to the Mediterranean Sea, was added to the Agreement, bringing the total number of species currently included within the Agreement to 30.
The most significant threat facing albatrosses and petrels is mortality resulting from interactions with fishing gear, especially longline and trawl fishing operations. In addition, birds may be threatened at their breeding sites by introduced predators, diseases, habitat loss and human disturbance. The Agreement provides a focus for international cooperation and the exchange of information and expertise, and the Action Plan annexed to the Agreement offers a framework for the implementation of effective conservation measures for these threatened seabirds, both on land and at sea.
Although individual nations are taking measures to protect albatrosses and petrels, international cooperative action is also required. Albatrosses and petrels are susceptible to threats operating throughout their wide migratory ranges that extend across national boundaries into international waters and it is unlikely that actions by any one nation alone will be effective in improving their global conservation status. International cooperation on albatross and petrel conservation thus enhances the prospects for successful conservation measures across their ranges.
A key area of ACAP’s work is the review of the population status and trends of all ACAP-listed species by way of maintaining a global database and producing a series of Species Assessments. These assessments provide up-to-date information on each species’ distribution, threats facing individual populations, the conservation measures in place to protect them and identify any gaps in knowledge about the species. ACAP has also developed Conservation Guidelines on biosecurity and quarantine for breeding sites; Conservation Guidelines on the eradication of introduced mammals from islands; best-practice advice for mitigating seabird bycatch in fisheries operations and an Action Conservation Plan for the Waved Albatross P.irrorataof Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. Other activities undertaken by ACAP include funding research projects, supporting capacity-building initiatives and enhancing awareness among the concerned public of the plight facing albatrosses and petrels, primarily by daily postings to ACAP Latest News on the Agreement’s web site (www.acap.aq) and to its Facebook Page. Such news includes an on-going series of illustrated ACAP Breeding Site accounts, brief reports of field work, management activities, conferences and other meetings, abstracts of scientific and popular publications and book reviews.
The Agreement has been working with tuna Regional Fishery Management Organizations (tRFMOs), the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and other relevant fisheries management organizations to encourage the adoption of best-practice mitigation measures to reduce seabird mortality in longline fisheries in international waters outside national jurisdictions (the high seas). Nearly all of the tRFMOs have in the last few years adopted conservation measures incorporating ACAP’s best-practice advice for seabird bycatch mitigation in pelagic longline fisheries (a combination of night setting, line weighting and deployment of bird-scaring lines). ACAP has also been working to reduce seabird mortality in trawl and other fisheries where seabird bycatch occurs.
Much more still needs to be achieved. A key challenge is to obtain accurate data on where and in what numbers seabirds are being caught as bycatch in fisheries operations, in order to assist the effective implementation of conservation measures. Another challenge is to seek the active involvement of those Range States that are not currently participating in the Agreement’s work, as it is only through such cooperation that ACAP’s objective of achieving and maintaining a favourable conservation status for albatrosses and petrels can be met.