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Expedition targets pirates to halt albatross death

Round-the-world expedition targets pirates to halt albatross deaths

One of Britain’s most experienced sailors, who rowed the North Atlantic with round-the-world yachtsman Chay Blyth in 1966, is to take on the pirate fishing fleets responsible for the deaths of thousands of endangered seabirds every year.

John Ridgway, 65, sails from remote Ardmore, north-west Scotland, on Saturday July 26, at the start of a year long expedition to report and film illegal fishing operations that are pushing 17 of the world’s 21 albatross species to the brink of extinction.

Ridgway will highlight the plight of albatrosses whose numbers have plummeted since longline fishing methods were introduced in the 1980s, a technique especially favoured by pirate fishing vessels. More than 300,000 birds, including 100,000 albatrosses, are lured onto baited hooks each year, either drowning or dying of their injuries. Ridgway wants pirate boats, many flying under flags of convenience, banned and international action to close down their black market in fish.

He said: “I cannot stand by and watch this happen. I’m putting together and funding an entirely independent voyage round the world to raise public awareness and prevent this needless slaughter. My volunteer crew, experts in their fields, are giving up to a year of their lives to help me. This is the most we can do. It may be the last chance for the albatross. To save them, all that’s needed is a willing captain on every fishing boat.”

Ridgway’s trip will be made up of seven legs, each one highlighting the predicament of different albatross species. Sailing via Spain’s Canaries to Cape Town, he will then track east in the Southern Ocean, following the westerly-wind driven route of the Wandering Albatross. This will take him to Melbourne and Wellington in New Zealand, and then on to Port Stanley in the Falklands, South Georgia and Gough Island - which lies in mid-Atlantic 1,600 miles off the South African coast - before returning to London from Cape Town, next July.

John’s wife, Marie-Christine, also a sailor and author, will be on board with him, alongside a camera crew and volunteers. Their yacht, English Rose VI, will have satellite links and the expedition will have its own website, www.savethealbatross.org. The BBC is planning to film most of the journey.

Longline fishing poses the greatest threat to the future of albatross species. Up to a billion baited hooks are deployed each year by the world’s longline fleets. Lines up to 80 miles (130 km) long are used to catch Bluefin Tuna and Patagonian Toothfish, both of which are also endangered. Pirate ships are seizing the opportunity in poorly policed waters to ignore mitigation measures while fish stocks last.

The Amsterdam Albatross is the most threatened species with just 90 left in the world. Of those, only 13 pairs breed in any one year. Other seabirds are also at risk, particularly the Spectacled Petrel, of which up to 1,000 die annually on longline hooks out of an estimated total global population of 2,500 – 10,000.

Ridgway’s expedition has the support of BirdLife International’s ‘Save the Albatross’ campaign. [2,3] Partners in BirdLife’s global network of bird conservation organisations will welcome English Rose VI at key stopovers around the world.

Dr Euan Dunn, head of the marine team at the RSPB, BirdLife’s UK partner, says: “After drawing inspiration from the sea all his life, John’s journey is a powerful gesture that will highlight not only the plight of albatrosses but also man’s failure to properly look after our oceans. But, above all, it’s a wake-up call to crack down on pirate fishing before albatrosses and other seabirds vanish from the planet.”

Dr Michael Rands, BirdLife International’s Director and Chief Executive, says: “The number of seabirds killed by longlines is increasing, as is the number of albatross species listed as globally threatened because of longlining, including the Black-browed Albatross, a previously abundant species. Longline fishing, especially by pirate vessels, is the single greatest threat to these seabirds.”


NOTES FOR EDITORS

1) Photographs of albatross species and petrels, and of the harm longline fishing can cause seabirds are available upon request prior to the embargo date. Photographs of the launch will be available after this date.
2) BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries who, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting bird life.
3) For details of BirdLife International’s Save the Albatross campaign, please visit: http://savethealbatross.birdlife.org


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