Putting telemetry to work

Using telemetry data to assess conservation requirements of the shy albatross

By Claire Mason (University of Tasmania)

The shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta) is an iconic Australian seabird. It breeds exclusively on three offshore Tasmanian islands. Like many seabirds around the world, the shy albatross is considered threatened. The Tasmanian Government has been monitoring the shy albatross since 1980.

Part of this monitoring program involves irregular deployments of satellite-tracking technology to better understand the bird’s behaviour and movement. Over 23 years, a total of 111 shy albatross were tracked at various times to answer a variety of research questions.

Key messages:

We set out to assess the efficacy of marine reserves in Australia for shy albatross, using long-term tracking data

Our results suggest that shy albatross do not have adequate coverage by marine reserves in Australia

We demonstrate that long-term telemetry data, even when collected irregularly and under different research priorities, can be integrated to increase return-on-investment and provide valuable information for conservation and management

Our study was the first to collate and integrate the data collected from the telemetry monitoring into a cohesive dataset. We used this integrated dataset to assess how a marine protected area (MPA) system covers the distribution of the threatened shy albatross, as well as extracting other useful spatial information for managers.

Integrating the available date allowed us to identify core foraging areas for two critical life stages: early incubation and post-fledging (Figure 1). It also identified that important foraging areas were largely within waters managed by the Commonwealth Government as opposed to State government jurisdiction.

Our efforts show that MPAs, although not created specifically for shy albatross but currently the only spatial protection measure in their marine environment, are not adequately covering the distribution of this threatened species (Figure 1). Indeed, we demonstrated that the current MPA network performs worse than a random configuration.

Animal telemetry is a valuable research tool for management and conservation. Given the substantial investment in collecting animal telemetry (and the potential disturbance to the tracked species), there is an ethical and practical obligation to maximize the benefit of these techniques for conservation outcomes (McGowan et al, 2017).

We demonstrated that it is possible to collate and integrate tracking data on shy albatross that had been collected across decades. We demonstrate how to overcome the challenges posed by such long-term tracking datasets to inform targeted conservation strategies.

MPAs are a valuable tool in the conservation toolbox for shy albatross. Although we are doing well on many fronts for shy albatross conservation, including climate adaptation strategies and in the fisheries bycatch sphere, this study shows MPA coverage is lacking. The information obtained from integrating this time-series of telemetry data can be used by the responsible agencies to enhance management for shy albatross in a range of contexts, including designing MPAs, targeted spatial and temporal management of fisheries, and decision-making for offshore development and resource use.

DPoint #106 (Oct 2018) (high res pdf for printing)_Page_23_Image_0001More info: Claire Mason claire.mason@utas.edu.au

Note: The study is a product of Claire Mason’s honours research project at The University of Queensland, with ARC CEED researchers: Justine Shaw, Hugh Possingham and Jennifer McGowan. It was carried out in collaboration with CSIRO and the Australian Antarctic Division. The project was inspired by, and used data from, the Marine Conservation Program, a government organisation responsible for the monitoring and conservation of marine mammals and seabirds in Tasmania, Australia. The shy albatross population at Albatross Island has been monitored since 1980 by the Marine Conservation Program and has been the focus of many applied conservation projects.


Mason C, R Alderman, J McGowan, HP Possingham, AJ Hobday, M Sumner & J Shaw (2018). Telemetry reveals existing marine protected areas are worse than random for protecting the foraging habitat of threatened shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta). Divers Distrib. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ddi.12830

McGowan J, M Beger, RL Lewison, R Harcourt, H Campbell, M Priest, RG Dwyer, HY Lin, P Lentini, C Dudgeon, C McMahon, M Watts & HP Possingham (2017). Integrating research using animal-borne telemetry with the needs of conservation management. Journal of Applied Ecology 54:423-429.

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