A New Use for Traffic Cones

December 20, 2007

Inventor Diego González Zevallos, with funding from WCS, has created a simple warning system for birds at sea that draws inspiration from the rules of the road.

Call them road rules for the sea. The same bright orange traffic cones that warn drivers of danger on the road are now being put to use at sea, preventing birds from colliding with fishing gear. With funding from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Fundación Patagonia National, Argentinean marine biologist and inventor Diego González Zevallos has studied the impact of fisheries on wildlife for more than five years.

The nutrient rich waters off the coast of Argentina—critical feeding grounds for many declining species of seabirds and mammals—have attracted increasingly intensive fishing in recent years. The competition for fish has proven particularly disastrous for the endangered black-browed albatross.

In order to steer albatross and other seabirds away from deadly entanglement, Zevallos’s “Traffic Cone,” as the device is called, attaches to the cables that fishing boats use to lower nets underwater. These easily visible, high-contrast floats dissuade the birds from accidentally striking an exposed cable when they dive for waste discarded by the boats.

Research on the use of Traffic Cones aboard commercial trawlers show the number of cable contacts by seabirds was reduced by 89 percent with no fatalities. Most participating crewmembers were willing to adopt the device because it did not adversely affect fishing success.

“We’re really excited. The device is very simple but will make a big difference in albatross mortality due to longline fisheries, the primary factor in its endangered status,” said Avecita Chicchón, director of WCS-Latin America and Caribbean.

In an international competition sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, Zevallos was selected as a runner-up and won $10,000 for his invention.

The Wildlife Conservation Society partners with the Fundación Patagonia Natural on seabird conservation research and has been working to protect marine mammals and seabirds in this region since 1964.

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