Published: 2003/07/26 10:22:52 GMT
Atlantic oarsman champions albatrosses
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
A British sailor whose name is a byword for fortitude, John Ridgway,
has picked a new challenge.
Ridgway, who in 1966 rowed the North Atlantic, is setting out to save
the world's albatrosses.
He expects to confront the pirate fishing fleets whose methods kill
thousands of seabirds annually.
His boat, the 17-metre (57 feet) ketch English Rose VI, has its own
website to enable a global audience to participate.
Ridgway's voyage, on which his wife is sailing too, will consist of
seven legs, each highlighting the plight of a different albatross
He leaves Scotland on 26 July, heading for the Canary Islands and then
to Cape Town in South Africa.
From there he will sail east, following the route of the wandering
albatross to Australia and New Zealand.
After calling at the Falkland Islands capital, Port Stanley, he will
return to Cape Town, and expects to be back in the UK in a year's time.
Ornithologists say it was the introduction of longline fishing in the
1980s that devastated the albatrosses.
They estimate more than 300,000 seabirds die annually after swallowing
the baited hooks, either drowning or else too injured to survive.
The world's longliners set as many as a billion hooks annually, on
lines up to 130 kilometres (80 miles) long. Methods of reducing the
bird-scaring lines with flapping coloured streamers
weighted bait to make the lines sink faster
fishing at night, when large albatrosses are unlikely to be feeding
avoiding fishing during the birds' breeding season
not discharging fish waste when setting lines.
BirdLife International says pirate ships are seizing the opportunity
in poorly-policed waters to ignore mitigation measures.
Ridgway wants pirate boats, many sailing under flags of convenience,
banned, and international action taken to close down their black market
Of the 21 southern hemisphere albatross species, 17 are believed to be
dangerously close to extinction.
Band of volunteers
The most threatened is the Amsterdam albatross, with just 90 left
worldwide - only 13 pairs breed in any one year.
Another seabird at great risk is the spectacled petrel. A thousand die
on longline hooks annually, from an estimated global population of no
more than 10,000.
Ridgway 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."
Dr Euan Dunn is head of the marine team at the UK's Royal Society for
the Protection of Birds. He said: "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."
John Ridgway has sailed this route twice before. He told BBC News
Online: "I love the southern ocean. There's no trace of man or his mess.
"Many's the time on a lonely watch it's just been me and the albatross.
It's the spirit of life, really. If we make them extinct, after
millions of years, during our lifetime, what luck awaits the hapless
human race, I wonder?"
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