I shall await the outcome of this First Meeting of Parties with much anticipation and I can only say that your work could not be more important.

Through the delegation of the United Kingdom, I did just want to send every good wish to the delegates taking part in this first Meeting of Parties under the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. As some of you may know, I have taken a particular interest in the fate of these majestic birds, not least because I remember them so well from my own days at sea as a Naval Officer.

It is entirely beyond my comprehension that we could allow them to become extinct and so I do want to congratulate the Government of Australia for leading this global initiative to tackle the threats faced by these great ocean wanderers, for acting as interim Secretariat for the Agreement and for hosting this meeting.

I know that I do not need to tell any of the Parties to this Agreement just how desperate the situation is for these birds. All twenty-one species of albatross are threatened and an estimated 250,000 albatross and petrels are killed each year from commercial fishing activities, with some species now numbering under 100 individuals. The need for action could not be more desperately urgent and I am delighted that this First Meeting of Parties has determined that it will identify key priorities for practical conservation action and look to agree criteria for emergency situations.

This Agreement is a demonstration of the growing international commitment to protect these unique sea birds and, I like to hope, a recognition that this problem is beyond the capacity of any one nation state to solve. Joint action is demanded and I would particularly like to commend the six parties that have shown their robust commitment to the plight of these birds – Australia, Ecuador, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and the United Kingdom.

These countries are showing true leadership on the world stage and I am delighted that several other countries, including Chile, Peru, France and Brazil are in the process of acceding to ACAP. This is excellent news and I hope that many more will follow their example, particularly those with fishing fleets operating in areas where albatrosses and petrels occur.

I shall await the outcome of this First Meeting of Parties with much anticipation and I can only say that your work could not be more important. The clock is ticking for these birds very, very fast. It would be a shameful travesty of our duty as stewards of this increasingly fragile globe if we could not find a way of living our lives in such a manner that these noble winged creatures can continue to share the same planet with us. I hope and pray that you have the energy and determination to do what needs to be done.