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Avoid the Curse of the Ancient Mariner

Coleridge’s nightmarish poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” describes the havoc wreaked upon a ship and its crew after an old sailor shoots an albatross and is condemned to wander the earth, zombielike, haranguing hapless passersby with his endless tale. The moral? “loveth best / All things great and small.” In other words, leave the albatross alone! Sadly, today’s mariners did not get the Coleridge memo: Their longlines and factory trawlers have steeply reduced numbers of today’s Endangered All-Star, the beautiful Black-browed Albatross. Based on current losses, an estimated 65% of the species will be wiped out over the next 65 years. To reduce needless bird mortality—one fishing boat can snag and drown dozens of seabirds on a single trip, and Namibia’s longline industry alone hauls in 30,000 birds a year—Birdlife International is funding an Albatross Task Force. In Brazil, Chile, South Africa, Namibia, Uruguay, and Argentina, Task Force personnel are spreading the word about how to reduce bird bycatch through the use of streamer lines to frighten off birds and weights to sink longlines. The industry could also clean up its act: Releasing longlines at night and reducing bait and other waste would save albatross lives. Three-quarters of the world’s remaining Black-browed Albatross nest in the Falkland Islands off of Argentina, in spectacular nesting sites where they construct tall pillar-like nests, used year after year, of mud, guano, and seaweed among tussock grass on the islands’ spectacular cliffs. Falklands Conservation, which works for many threatened species on the islands, has published helpful pdf guides for landowners and the fishing industry. You too can avoid the curse of the Ancient Mariner: Refuse to buy fish (especially Chilean seabass or Patagonian toothfish) caught on longlines: Consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide while shopping or eating out.
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