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Floating Wall-E buoys are saving seabirds from bycatch death

Ornithological scientists have in essence created open sea scarecrows to deter seabirds from ending up in fishing nets. I know how it sounds, but data shows they’re proving surprisingly effective.

Remember Pixar’s adorable waste collecting hero Wall-E? Well seabirds are utterly terrified of it, apparently.

In response to alarming ornithological figures revealing that more than 720,000 sea birds continue to die from getting caught in gillnets annually, a leading bycatch reduction company called Fishtek Marine has developed an ingenious deterrent to keep seabirds at bay.

The device in question, dubbed the ‘Looming Eyes Buoy,’ is an open sea scarecrow which uses bright eye-spots and jarring movements to confuse and frighten our feathered friends away from gillnet fishing zones.

Floating on circular buoys, this prototype machine looks to us (with forward facing eyes) like a Wall-E head on a pole, but surprisingly it’s said to be real effective in tapping into birds innate fear of eye contact. Please don’t start glaring at Pigeons from this day forth.

Scientists from BirdLife International and the Estonian Ornithological Society have put Fishtek Marine’s floating scarecrows to the test, not by leaving them outside parrot aviaries or chicken coups, but by trialling them in the seas of Estonia on long-tailed ducks.

After 250 hours of observation, the team found that Looming Eyes Buoys were able to stop local ducks congregating at a rate 20-30% more efficient than traditional fishing buoys intended for the same purpose.

It was also promising to see that long-tailed ducks returned in large numbers once the device had been removed, all but underpinning the Looming Eye Buoy as the delineating factor in the experiment.

Prior to this invention, black and white panels had been put on fishing nets to make them more visible to birds, and some had even been equipped with underwater LED lights. Following suit, the Looming Eyes Buoy is another low-cost solution with the potential to reduce bycatch globally.

Dr Alex Bond, senior curator of birds at the Natural History Museum in London, described the prototype as ‘really promising’ stating that it’s both a ‘relatively cheap and robust’ way of putting a dent in unnecessary seabird deaths.

The only big catch now is whether or not it proves effective in small fisheries over a sustained period of time.

While ecology and conservation seniors are right to be excited about the Looming Eyes Buoy, they are very aware that other strategies may need to be considered down the line.

Birds will likely habituate to the device over time – especially as its eyes reportedly don’t accurately track movement – and could begin to ignore them in the same way maverick birds do traditional scarecrows.

Honestly, these concerns are purely conjecture though and in the immediate future the signs are very positive. We now hope to see this invention pass through the necessary legislation and start to be utilised across the globe.

Just for context, a 30% deficit in bycatch rates could save 216,000 seabirds every year.

Wherever you are in the universe Wall-E… the world of ornithology salutes you.


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