Dozens of fluffy shy albatross chicks sitting on artificial nests are a promising sign for scientists behind an innovative plan to help the vulnerable species.
Over one hundred specially built mudbrick and aerated concrete artificial nests were airlifted on to Bass Strait’s Albatross Island in July 2017 as a trial program aimed at increasing the breeding success of the Tasmanian shy albatross.
The artificial nests were placed in areas where they were typically of lower quality and recent monitoring has revealed the birds are accepting the nests and personalising them with mud and vegetation.
Conservation scientists and funding partners from the Tasmanian and Australian Governments, WWF Australia, CSIRO Marine Climate Impact and the Tasmanian Albatross Fund have worked together to trial artificial nests, which mimic a high-quality natural nest, as a means of giving the species a boost to help counteract the negative impacts of climate change.
Increased air temperatures, associated with climate change, are reducing breeding success for Australia’s only albatross. The rapid warming of the ocean may also be making it harder for foraging parents to find prey.
Shy albatross are endemic to Australia and only nest on three islands off the coast of Tasmania – Albatross Island, Pedra Branca and Mewstone.
Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment Wildlife Biologist Dr Rachael Alderman said in some parts of the Albatross Island colony, birds struggle to find and keep sufficient nesting material resulting in a poor quality nest.
“Monitoring has shown that birds with inferior nests are less likely to successfully raise a chick.
“Shy albatross lay a single egg in late September and those eggs have now hatched. At this stage in the trial, the breeding success of pairs on artificial nests is 20% higher than those on natural nests. There are many more months ahead for all the chicks, and a lot can change, but so far it’s very promising.”
“When the chicks are fully grown and about to fly from the island for the very first time, some will have tiny satellite trackers attached. These devices will capture the movements of first few months at sea and provide scientists with crucial information about why fewer juveniles are surviving,” Dr Alderman said.
WWF-Australia’s Head of Living Ecosystems Darren Grover, who visited the site with Dr Alderman in December, said the benefits of the pre-constructed nests were evident.
“Albatross Island gets hit with wild weather. Good quality nests keep eggs and chicks safe and sound. The artificial nests were all intact but many of the natural nests were already starting to deteriorate. That’s not the best start to life for a chick,” he said.
Fellow collaborator, Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research Alistair Hobday was also excited with the news.
“In the face of climate change, new approaches will need to developed, tested and evaluated – we are building a tool-box of tested options and this latest news is very encouraging" he said
New Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box said the project was a wonderful example of effective conservation partnership that can serve as a model for future wildlife recovery efforts.
“It’s fantastic to see this project come to fruition. We all have a role to play in protecting our threatened species and thanks to contributions by government, scientists and non-government partners we are starting to some really positive outcomes for the shy albatross in Tasmania,” Dr Box said.
This project is supported by WWF-Australia, WWF’s “Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund”, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, CSIRO Marine Climate Impact and Adaption, and Tasmanian Albatross Fund.