GREEN

Artificial Nests Airlifted To Tasmania's Vulnerable Shy Albatross

The birds only lay one egg a year and despite their best efforts, half won't make it.

09/10/2017 12:50 PM AEDT | Updated 10/10/2017 7:16 AM AEDT

Set among the waters separating mainland Australia and Tasmania lies a remote island that's not very well known to most, but it's home to 10,000 residents that are in desperate need of a helping hand to keep their numbers from dwindling.

Each year, the Tasmanian Shy Albatross lays its eggs on the aptly named Albatross Island. However, with 5,000 breeding pairs all competing for space, life can be both crowded and chaotic while mishaps account for the loss of half of the eggs laid.

​​​​For this reason, specially built nests have been airlifted to the Bass Strait as part of a trial program designed to help the vulnerable species.

In a carefully orchestrated air and sea operation, 120 of the mudbrick and aerated concrete nests were sent to the aptly named Albatross Island in an effort to help ensure that more of the vulnerable species' chicks survive.

Matthew Newton / WWF-Aus
All 120 of the nests were transported to the remote island in a carefully orchestrated air and sea operation.
Matthew Newton / WWF-Aus

The Shy Albatross is unique in that they form long-lasting bonds with their mating partners which can take several years to develop and strengthen -- and when they do finally get together, the female will only produce a single large egg. However, many are broken due to nests that are poorly-constructed and offer little protection from sharp stones, rolling away or flooding rains.

It's therefore easy to understand why these high-quality nests are of vital importance.

MATTHEW NEWTON / WWF-AUS

The "low reproductive output" of the birds combined with "unprecedented changes in the marine and breeding environments" due to climate change have led do a decline in numbers according to Dr Rachael Alderman from Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.

"Already some impacts are being seen with fewer chicks produced in years of higher temperatures or increased rainfall -- also there is evidence of birds spending longer periods at time at sea obtaining food," she said.

Matthew Newton / WWF-Aus
Could this couple soon be welcoming a new addition? We hope so.

Matthew Newton / WWF-Aus
Researchers positioned the artificial nests just as the birds were starting to stake out nest sites.

"While some species can physically relocate to more favourable environments or adapt in other ways, the biology of albatross make them particularly vulnerable to rapid negative changes.

"We need to be developing strategies now if we want to ensure our must susceptible species persist in the future."

Matthew Newton / WWF-Aus
This one looks pretty comfy.

Matthew Newton / WWF-Aus
The nests were airlifted to Albatross Island.

According to Alderman, the trial program is "based on the simple theory that if ready-made high quality nests are put in areas where nests are typically of lower quality we increase the chances of albatross pairs successfully raising a chick".

WWF Australia's Head of Living Ecosystems, Darren Grover, said that several prototypes were developed before the program created one that "mimics a good quality real nest".

Matthew Newton / WWF-Aus
The Tasmanian Shy Albatross breeds on only three offshore islands -- Albatross Island being one of them (obviously).

Matthew Newton / WWF-Aus
Researchers are hoping the nests will soon be filled with chicks.

"Researchers positioned the artificial nests just as the birds were starting to stake out nest sites and begin construction. Although it is still very early days it's encouraging to see some birds starting to utilise the artificial nests," he said.

"We're hoping to see many eggs hatch and many chicks survive on artificial nests."

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