Albatross protection strategy wins people's choice award

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A team from Fisheries New Zealand, the Department of Conversation (DOC) and Creative HQ has this week won the people’s choice award at the Lightning Lab GovTech programme for their innovative strategy designed to find a new way to protect the nationally critical Antipodean albatross.

The team has been part of a 3-month intensive programme, run by CreativeHQ, which is designed to find new solutions to particularly challenging government problems. The project was one of 12 Lightning Lab GovTech projects presented in Wellington on 13 November.

Fisheries New Zealand’s manager of fisheries science, Dr Shelton Harley says it's been great to see what the team has come up with working in the accelerator programme.

"The Safer Seas for Albatross Strategy project proposes using, EARS – Electronic Automated Reporting System, an innovative tech system to monitor whether fishers are correctly doing what they are required to do to reduce fishing-related risks to Antipodean albatross," Dr Harley says.

"This a practical solution that may help to prevent this iconic species from slipping away to -extinction.

Three-quarterss of the Antipodean albatross that breed on the sub-Antarctic Antipodes Island have disappeared in the last 12 years and we need to make sure we're doing all we can to prevent further loss.

"The team realised there is little time to act, so came up with a new remote monitoring system to show if fishing vessels are using the required measures to prevent albatrosses becoming hooked.

"DOC and Fisheries New Zealand work together alongside industry and NGOs [non-government organisations] to understand the risks to albatross, and find practical ways to mitigate captures of these birds on fishing vessels,” says Dr Harley.  

DOC’s manager of marine species and threats, Ian Angus says it is good to see the collaborative approach being taken towards seabird conservation.

"New Zealand already has underway a wide range of actions domestically and internationally to protect our seabirds. It's vital we keep looking for new and novel ways to improve upon these programmes, especially for those species most at risk," says Mr Angus.

"This new approach could take that work a step further and make a real difference to how we protect albatross from accidental capture in fishing gear across the South Pacific," Dr Harley says. 

Next steps will likely include completing the bench testing of the technology, ruggedising the components for seagoing duties, sea trials on various interested vessels, and then finding willing companies or countries to start rolling out the technology.

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