Marine Important Bird Areas
Identifying Marine Important Bird Areas
The Important Bird Areas (IBAs) programme of BirdLife International seeks to identify, document and conserve sites that are critical for the long-term viability of bird populations. The programme began in the 1980s and the process of site inventory is very well advanced in the terrestrial environment, with more than 9000 sites already identified around the world. Conservation actions are underway at many of these sites, many now benefiting from enhanced protection status, formal and informal.
With the success of the IBA approach in the terrestrial and freshwater environment, BirdLife is now adapting and extending the programme to the oceans. Extending IBAs into the marine realm is important but poses both conceptual and practical challenges. The identification of Marine IBAs will make a vital contribution to global initiatives to gain greater protection and sustainable management of the oceans, including valuable input to the identification of Marine Protected Areas.
Developing criteria to define marine IBAs
IBAs are chosen using quantitative, standardised, globally agreed criteria. However, the criteria currently in use were devised specifically for application in terrestrial and freshwater habitats, and work is therefore currently underway to refine them such that they are equally effective in the marine environment.
Criteria for marine IBA identification and delimitation are under active discussion within BirdLife. Recent meetings have helped to refine the process and suggest some appropriate IBA threshold numbers and a variety of marine IBA delimitation methods. These are currently being tested within BirdLife before wider application is proposed.
Patterns of seabird distribution inform selection of marine IBAs
Work undertaken to date indicates the following aspects of seabird distribution patterns will inform how marine IBAs are to be selected, and Criteria are being developed for the each situation:
- Seaward extensions to breeding colonies. These include coastal foraging and maintenance areas for both short ranging species (e.g. terns, gulls and cormorants), and longer ranging species (e.g. larger penguins, gannets and albatrosses) which, while chicks are young, may travel up to one hundred kilometres from the colony on a single trip. These sites would be contiguous with existing IBAs, and would therefore require extending IBA boundaries into the marine environment. The seaward boundary would, as far as possible, be colony and/or species-specific, based on known or estimated foraging and maintenance ranges.
- Coastal congregations of non-breeding seabirds. These would include, for example, areas used by foraging and/or moulting sea-ducks.
- Migration bottlenecks. These include places through or around which large numbers of seabirds pass regularly, such as straits, headlands etc.
- High seas sites. These cover foraging areas for pelagic species, often on highly productive shelf-break areas, eddies and upwellings, which are likely to be non-contiguous with breeding colonies, as they may lie hundreds of kilometres away, for example, in the Humboldt Current, the Patagonian Shelf, the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone, the Benguela Current and the Canary Current.
Work is continuing on the details of how these phenomena will be translated into quantified site selection criteria. The parts of the BirdLife Partnership where the criteria are under most active development are Iberia (Portugal and Spain), and the eastern Baltic Sea.
Marine IBAs identified to date
An initial list of candidate marine IBAs within the existing IBA dataset has already been compiled, and this summarises those IBAs considered marine because of the seabird breeding colonies they contain. These sites are being verified by Partners.
Many existing candidate marine IBAs could be protected more effectively by inclusion in the IBA, where possible, of some or all of the foraging area used by the breeding birds. The BirdLife Secretariat has started collating data on seabird foraging ranges and work is underway by a number of Partners to trial the distances proposed for extensions. Guidelines are planned that will be provide advice and examples on how to apply the findings in practice. These will cover situations where site or species data are deficient (necessitating the use of surrogate data from other sites and / or species) and how to apply foraging range data at sites where different seabird species breed.
Identifying and then effectively protecting IBAs on the high seas presents many challenges, due to knowledge limitations and practical issues, but remains a priority strategy for pelagic seabird conservation. Habitat features that may prove important in this respect are oceanographic features such as bathymetry, temperature and salinity. Responsibility for designating IBAs on the high seas, if this proves appropriate, will be led by the Secretariat through the Global Seabird Programme. Designation of IBAs within territorial water will be led by the country concerned.
Examples of marine IBA work within the BirdLife Partnership
BirdLife Partner Organisations in Spain (SEO/BirdLife) and Portugal (SPEA) are, with European Union LIFE funding, undertaking a project to produce an inventory of marine IBAs for all seabird species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive that breed in Spain or Portugal. The inventory will include seabird ranges at sea in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, including those parts of the Atlantic used by species breeding in the European Macaronesia (Azores, Madeira and Canary islands). The findings will be used to inform the future designation of SPAs. An important component of the project is the targeted collection and analysis of data for the further development of the criteria for site identification.
BirdLife Partners in Estonia (EOÜ) and Latvia (LOB), as well as BirdLife International are Partners to a large LIFE project funded by the European Union aiming at identifying and protecting marine areas (including IBAs) of the eastern Baltic Sea under the strong EU nature legislation (“Natura 2000” network). Through this project it will be possible to refine the existing IBA inventories for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and to protect these sites effectively under Natura 2000. The project will also help to further develop and promote marine IBAs in other parts of Europe and the World. See the project website at: www.balticseaportal.net
In New Zealand, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, is compiling an inventory of marine IBAs for globally threatened seabird species that breed in New Zealand. This coincides with a new Marine Reserves Bill which the New Zealand Government passed in 2006, and which provides for extending the area within which marine reserves can be established out from territorial waters to the whole EEZ. New Zealand has 84 breeding species of seabird, of which 35 are considered globally threatened.
- Towards the identification of marine IBAs in the EU (PDF, 1MB)
- Conserving our seabirds: how to identify Important Bird Areas in the marine environment, Vilanova i la Geltrú, Spain - 13-16 November 2005 (PDF, 280KB)
- Implementing Natura 2000 in the marine environment. International workshop, September 2005, Lisbon. (PDF, 365KB)
- Implementing N2000 in the marine environment: Marine IBAs: Lisbon-Vilanova conclusions (PDF, 156KB)