Saturday, December 17, 2011

Austin American-Statesman :: The Albatross and the Fish

The Albatross and the Fish
by Robin W. Doughty and
Virginia Carmichael
Buy It Now
Texas expert on saving the albatross
By Tara Haelle

The 22 species of albatross are the most threatened bird group in the world because of human activities, according to Robin Doughty, a geographer and ornithologist at the University of Texas.

But in the new book "The Albatross and the Fish: Linked Lives in the Open Seas," Doughty and his co-author, Virginia Carmichael, write that the international community is waking up to the need of preserving the iconic bird of the open sea.

"The albatross is like a bellwether of what we've done in exploitation," Doughty said in an interview. "What we've done to the albatross we've done to whales and to seals. We've basically cleaned out these populations on remote southern hemisphere islands."

Yet Doughty said that the book does not set out to demonize those responsible for the near-decimation of the species; rather, it attempts to show how an alliance of governments, conservation groups and fisherman worked together to institute provisions that would preserve the world's largest seabird.

"I don't want to look at this as gloom and doom," he said. "We need to look at this in a new way, as being part of the ecology rather than dominators of it."

The story of the albatross demonstrates how what happens in one part of the world can have far-reaching effects, said Robert Suryan, assistant professor of marine science at Oregon State University.

"Albatrosses are an excellent symbol of global conservation of a species," Suryan said. "They breed on these remote islands that few people ever visit and few people ever know about, yet they're impacted by human activities tens of thousands of miles away because they're such long-distance wanderers that travel the whole ocean basin."

Protecting the albatross is challenging because it requires cooperation across many countries. Yet, Suryan said, it also draws the sympathies of people across many countries.

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