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Africa
1 Apr 2015

Future oil production sites threaten seabirds off the shore of Senegal

Royal Tern colony on ‘Iîe aux oiseaux’ (Bird Island) at PNDS, Senegal (Photo: VEDA Photography)
By Obaka Torto

A three day meeting began on 17 February 2015 of the Experts Panel at the Abidjan Convention on Marine Environmental Standards for Offshore Oil and Gas Development. The meeting, held in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, brought together 25 experts and delegates from 10 countries, as well as several international organisations, to confront the threats to the West African environment from the activities of the offshore oil and gas industries.

BirdLife International, through its seabird conservation project Alcyon, along with VEDA Consultancy (a consulting firm working for BirdLife International on colonial breeding birds in West Africa), informed the panel of the recent discovery of oil in the Sangomar Deep block, off the Senegalese coast close to the National Park of Saloum Delta (PNDS), and its possible negative consequences for the world’s largest breeding colony of Royal Tern Thalasseus maximus.

Saloum Delta is a large national park (73,000 ha) situated on the Atlantic coast of Senegal, north of the Gambian border. A number of isolated sandy islands are situated a few kilometres from the mainland. One of them, île  aux Oiseaux, is one of the most important breeding sites on the Senegal coast for colonial seabirds: these include Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia, Royal Tern Thalasseus maximus, Slender-billed Gull Larus genei and Grey-headed Gull Larus cirrocephalus.

Royal tern and chicks (Photo: Veda Photography)

The island is of great international importance for Royal Tern, sustaining up to 80% of the total population. In West Africa, Royal Tern breeds from Guinea to Mauritania. However, its entire breeding population is estimated to be only 95,000 pairs, of which up to 42,000 pairs breed in the Saloum Delta National Park in Senegal (Veen et al. 2008) , making it the world’s most important breeding site for this species.

The Alcyon project of BirdLife International, funded by the MAVA Foundation, supports the monitoring of colonial breeding species in West Africa in order to identify marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and thus to improve protection of the region’s seabirds. BirdLife is collaborating with Veda Consultancy and other partners to conduct research into Royal Tern in this area.

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As a member of the Expert Panel and an ornithologist for VEDA, Wim Mullié, an environmental toxicologist, presented a poster designed to raise the alarm against future oil production in the immediate vicinity and the threat that commercial exploitation of oil might represent for the tern colonies.

This is indeed a good example of the practical use of data generated by the Alcyon project for conservation purposes.


Article by Wim Mullié and Justine Dossa

 

References
Veen, J., Dallmeijer, H.J. & Diagana, C. 2008. Monitoring colonial nesting birds along the West African Seaboard. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.