Hooked on the albatross

By | Science & Technology
A Buller's albatross off the coast of New South Wales, Australia. Credit@Leoviaflickr

The albatross is an iconic seabird, motivating artists and poets alike. Coleridge used the bird as a powerful symbol in the ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, a poem that had significant influence in the world of literature. The biology of the albatross is equally motivating to seabird enthusiasts and scientists alike. The great albatross, for instance, boasts the world’s largest wingspan of 12 feet and has been known to live to the impressive age of 70. The albatross forms an intimate pair bond and may travel 600 miles a day. The artistic and scientific beauty of these birds fills people with awe, as the albatross dives for prey beneath the ocean’s surface. The importance of protecting such an exquisite, majestic bird is therefore paramount to conservation efforts. This passion to protect the albatross, amongst other seabirds, is evident in the team that designed the ‘Hookpod’, an ingenious device that works to support both albatross populations and fishermen.

The Hookpod was created to help fishermen catch fish, whilst protecting the 300,000 seabirds that may be hooked by tuna and swordfish long-lines every year. This clever kit protects the albatross by enclosing the point and barb of the hook on entry to the water. However, as the long-line descends into fishing territory, a pressure mechanism causes a piston to fire and release the hook. The Hookpod also comes equipped with an LED light which activates as the hook is released. This light helps attract more fish, increasing the overall haul of the trip. It is also far more sustainable and saves fishermen money, in comparison to chemical light-sticks, which may only be used once before being released into the ocean. Using the Hookpod means keeping the oceans cleaner from plastic products. Another benefit of the device is its durability, which may allow it to last for over three years of consistent use. The advantages of the highly durable, efficient and protective Hookpod over traditional fishing lines are clear.

Seabirds flock to fishing boats. Credit @PeterKraayvangerviapixabay

Seabirds flock to fishing boats. Credit @PeterKraayvangerviapixabay

The campaign to launch the Hookpod into commercial use has been well received and supported. On Monday, it successfully reached its target funding of £100,000 and continues to gain financial support. Most importantly, the principal target buyers, fishermen, have applauded the product for its efficiency. Celso Rocha de Oliveria, a Brazilian fisherman, said: “It’s a pleasure to help to develop this technology, which in my view is the solution to seabird by-catch in pelagic long-line fisheries.” The Hookpod has been put through its paces, adjusted and improved throughout five years of trials, development and support from the RSPB, Bird Life International and Albatross Task Force. It is now ready to reach fishermen on a large scale. The money aims to allow the creators of the Hookpod to mass produce and distribute their product throughout New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and South Africa – hotspots for pelagic fishing and albatross species. The Hookpod team are confident that once fishermen realise how beneficial the device is, it might quickly spread through fishing communities around the world.

The Hookpod may result in the near 100 per cent survival rate of seabirds that come into contact with pelagic fishing boats. Simultaneously, fisherman may therefore be able to catch more fish, increasing their earnings and providing more food for their communities. With the aid of the Hookpod the albatross aims to continue to motivate many generations to come. The albatross is forever synonymous with the open oceans.

How else might conservation efforts benefit both human and animal sustainability?

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