The risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the Southern Ocean: a practical guide for operators and scientists interacting with wildlife
Dewar M., Wille M., Gamble A., Vanstreels RET., Bouliner T., Smith A., Varsani A., Ratcliffe N., Black J., Lynnes A., Barbosa A., Hart T.
Since the beginning of 2022, the increasing intensity of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 outbreaks has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere, around the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and southern Africa. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) Antarctic Wildlife Health Network (AWHN) is highly concerned about the probable arrival and subsequent impact that HPAI H5N1 might have on Southern Ocean wildlife. Due to the heightened risk of HPAI being introduced to Antarctica by migrating seabirds, the AWHN recommends that: • People working with or close to wildlife should assume that HPAI will arrive in the sub-Antarctic and Antarctica and take precautions to protect themselves when working around wildlife (including appropriate personal protective equipment; PPE) and maintain the highest biosecurity to prevent transmission between wildlife aggregations. • All national programmes (NPs), tourism and fishery operators should monitor colonies for signs of HPAI before approaching, especially in migratory species such as skuas, gulls and giant petrels. Visitors from tourism and fishery operations should not enter colonies and high-wildlife-density areas with suspected HPAI, and NPs should expedite risk analysis as to which activities need to continue. • A detailed protocol on how to assess wildlife aggregations for HPAI prior to a visit and what to do if HPAI is detected should be provided to all stakeholders physically present in Antarctica this season. • If you detect signs of HPAI, do not enter colonies and do report these to your permit issuer. Videos of affected animals (collected from a distance) are very helpful for experts to help determine whether or not this is HPAI. • Operators should refresh themselves with and review all biosecurity and any response guidelines regarding unusual/mass mortality events. This document aims to: 1) Outline the likely risk to Southern Ocean taxa 2) Suggest which risks can be mitigated in light of human activity, transmission into and out of Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic regions by all operators as well as movements between sites within the Southern Ocean (primarily for science and tourism) 3) Start discussions with NPs about ongoing monitoring for disease and consequences.