Editor's note

With its three-and-a-half metre wingspan, the wandering albatross flies the equivalent of ten return journeys between the Earth and the Moon during its lifetime. Gliding serenely above the waves during the most fearsome storms, these seabirds tend to gather where a tasty meal is likely – like off the bow of a fishing boat. But this puts them at risk of being accidentally caught and killed in nets and on hooks, especially on the high seas where monitoring is scarce.

Bycatch kills hundreds of thousands of marine creatures every year, particularly on vessels that operate illegally in international waters. This is so difficult to police simply because of how vast and remote these regions are. One patrol boat can never expect to make headway, but a crack team of albatrosses can cover 10,000 kilometres of ocean each in a month-long journey.

Samantha Patrick, a senior lecturer in marine biology at the University of Liverpool, had only intended to study how albatrosses interact with fishing vessels. What she found could revolutionise how marine life is protected on the high seas. By attaching loggers to albatrosses that can detect the radars of fishing boats, Patrick and her colleagues uncovered the locations of numerous vessels that had been operating with these devices turned off – fishing undetected (and potentially illegally) on the high seas. While illegal activity in these waters is currently monitored by a handful of ships and spotter planes, in the future it could be done with seabirds wearing these devices as they swoop and soar around the world, relaying any potential illegal activity to authorities in real time.

In other environmental news, new research has found that encouraging people to take personal steps to limit their carbon footprint can lead them towards supporting collective action on climate change. As Brexit looms, an English grammar expert tells us why the newly minted Brexit coin more than earns its controversy and could we redesign social networks to tackle the dreaded ‘fear or missing out’?

Jack Marley

Commissioning Editor

Top stories


How we recruited albatrosses to patrol the high seas for illegal fishers

Samantha Patrick, University of Liverpool

Scientists were struggling to keep track of illegal fishing in international waters and the seabirds it threatened. Then they had an idea.

Montreal climate march, September 27 2019. Maria Merlos/Shutterstock

Climate action shouldn’t mean choosing between personal and political responsibility

Joost de Moor, Stockholm University; Brian Doherty, Keele University; Philip Catney, Keele University

New research shows changing your lifestyle for environmental reasons can lead you into political action.

Philip Pullman thinks this coin needs another comma. What do you think? HM Treasury/PA

Comma again? Philip Pullman’s Oxford comma rage doesn’t go far enough

Roslyn Petelin, The University of Queensland

Philip Pullman's call for a boycott against the new 50p coin is just the latest Oxford comma controvery.


Redesigning social media platforms to reduce ‘FoMO’

Raian Ali, Hamad Bin Khalifa University; John McAlaney, Bournemouth University

New research has identified the main triggers of this psychological phenomenon, the contexts in which it happens and the types of fears involved in it.

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