Winged Ambassadors - Race for a Clean Ocean

Follow the migration of these magnificent navigators during the summer of 2008

Kure Atoll, Hawaii | Cordell Bank, California

Black-footed albatross are proficient sailors, using the wind and swells to travel vast distances across the North Pacific. During these open ocean voyages they are threatened by human activities, including incidental mortality in longline fisheries and ingestion of floating plastic debris. These impacts can be reduced through simple actions driven by responsible consumer choices and behavior.

In the summer of 2008, we tagged 18 Black-footed Albatross with small and light-weight satellite transmitters at two locations: Kure Atoll (western-most island in the Hawaiian archipelago) and Cordell Bank (central California). We used this technology to follow their movements across the North Pacific Ocean and to map their migration routes and foraging grounds.

Find out more about the transmitters used for satellite tracking.

Knowledge Gaps

Information on albatross movements and high-use areas is necessary to raise awareness for their conservation at multiple levels: over the entire North Pacific, in the United States, and regionally. Because albatross travel vast distances across the North Pacific in search for food to feed their chicks (February - June) and during their post-breeding dispersal from colonies (June - October), they are potentially impacted by diverse and distant threats throughout their life cycle.

In particular, it is imperative to understand to what extent these far-ranging seabirds use the territorial waters of different North Pacific nations and the "high seas" beyond national jurisdiction. The potential impacts from international longline fisheries and plastic pollution in the open ocean are particularly difficult to quantify and manage. Yet, these impacts can be mitigated through small changes in consumer behavior by individual citizens. A heightened awareness of these impacts is urgently needed to reduce plastic pollution and to support sustainable fishing practices at home and internationally.

How to Make a Difference

As consumers, the decisions we make concerning the products we buy every day have important ecological implications. We are responsible for our choices about the products we buy, the origin of the different products and raw materials used to produce them, and the amount and fate of waste resulting from the production and use of these products.

Our behavior as consumers impacts albatross and their habitats in two very tangible ways: our decisions concerning our consumption of fish products (e.g., the type and the source of the fish we buy reward or penalize commercial fisheries that are potentially killing these birds incidentally), and our attitude towards plastics (e.g., whether we litter or dispose of waste correctly; whether we consume large amounts of plastic products or minimize our consumption by reducing, reusing, and recycling) link our every-day choices and behavior with these far-ranging oceanic birds. While many of us will never see an albatross in our life-time, commercial fisheries and rivers connect our actions with the fate of these majestic seabirds.

Tracking the Fate of Marine Debris

Researchers and students are quantifying the amount and the types of marine debris in the ocean using a variety of approaches. Beach clean-ups, net tows and necropsies of seabirds washed up on beaches and killed in fisheries provide insights into the distribution and the incidence of marine debris in the global ocean. Worldwide, these studies are documenting the pervasive problem of seabird ingestion of marine debris, including fragments of consumer plastics, styrofoam and fishing line. This photo shows 6th grade students from the Benicia School District dissecting a bolus, as part of the City of Benicia Water Education Program.

Links to Marine Debris News


New Zealand

North Pacific

North Atlantic


Albatross chicks regurgitate boluses, indigestible masses containing naturally-occurring items (squid beaks, pumice) and marine debris (plastic fragments, pieces of rope, styrofoam) at their breeding colonies. The study of these boluses provides amazing insights into the marine debris (type, size, color) collected at sea and fed by foraging adults to their chicks on the colonies.

Links to Education Resources

Oikonos Ocean Stewardship

Marine Debris 101


Learning Where Your Fish Comes From

Increasingly, consumers are becoming informed about where (the origin) and how (the methods) fish are produced (grown or caught). Because not all fish stocks are equally capable of supporting commercial fisheries due to their ecology and life-history, the ecological impacts of this harvest vary widely across species. Moreover, because not all fisheries are equally damaging to the non-target species and the surrounding marine environment, the amount and the type of bycatch (incidental mortality) associated with the harvesting of various target fish species is another critical aspect to consider. Longline fisheries - when not equipped with bycatch mitigation gear, such as the tori-lines (bird-scaring devices) depicted in the panels above - incidentally kill long-lived albatrosses and petrels.

Links to Seabird Bycatch Information

American Bird Conservancy

BirdLife International

Guided by the available information on the ecological impacts of different fisheries and the status of specific stocks, consumers are increasingly capable to make informed choices that support sustainable fisheries.

Links to Sustainable Fisheries Information

Seafood Watch Program from Monterey Bay Aquarium

Marine Stewardship Council



Sponsored By: