New review reveals worrying declines in the world’s seabirds

By Tris Allinson, Fri, 09/03/2012 - 03:00

The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades and several species and many populations are now perilously close to extinction.

These are the findings of a major new review published this week in the scientific journal Bird Conservation International. The review—based on BirdLife International’s data and assessment for the IUCN Red List—reveals that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds. Of the 346 seabird species, 97 (28%) are globally threatened and a further 10% are close to being so.

Nearly half of all seabird species are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. The albatross family is especially imperilled with 17 of the 22 species currently threatened with extinction.

“Seabirds are a diverse group of worldwide distribution and as top predators they also provide a valuable indicator of wider marine health”, said Professor John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme, and the paper’s lead author.

Human activities lie behind these declines. At sea, commercial fisheries have degraded fish stocks and caused the deaths of innumerable seabirds through accidental bycatch, whilst on land the introduction of invasive species has extirpated many breeding colonies. There may still be time to reverse these declines and the review is clear on the actions that need to be taken.

The sites where seabird congregate—both onshore breeding colonies and offshore feeding grounds must be protected. BirdLife has already identified many Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for seabirds on land and is about to publish the first inventory of marine IBAs in the high seas. It is hoped that these will help develop a global network of Marine Protected Areas and assist the implementation of new approaches to the management and protection of marine systems. Invasive species, especially introduced rodents, must be removed from major seabird colonies.

Several successful restoration projects have already taken place and BirdLife is currently collaborating with Island Conservation and the University of California, Santa Cruz to compile a list of priority sites for future eradication operations. There is also a need for more research to fill existing knowledge gaps and address emerging threats such as aquaculture, energy generation operations and climate change.

The review paper [Croxall, J. P., Butchart S. H. M., Lascelles, B., Stattersfield A. J., Sullivan B., Symes, A. and Taylor, P. (2012) Seabird conservation status, threats and priority actions: a global assessment. Bird Conserv. Int. 22: 1–34.] is the lead article in a special seabird edition of Bird Conservation International and can accessed for free here.

For more information on the status of the world’s seabirds and the efforts being taken by the BirdLife partnership to save them please visit the new State of the World’s Birds Spotlight on Seabirds’.

Worldwide Marine


Many thanks for your observations. Great surname!

You fail to mention the impact of over fishing and badly designed wind power generators. The dismissal of these culprits is killing birds as i write. Allthough wind power most definitely has a place in todays world, I find it deeply shocking that, whilst bird safe designs exist on the market (radar, automatic shutdown, horizontal blades etc) they are apparently not yet mandatory. The impending results will be irreversible and cost us the annihilation of such precious biodiverity whilst the enourmous budgets destined for windpower easily could cover such modification to the systems. The staggering amount of multinationals wanting to better a questionalble reputation and image on the environmental front and their investment frenzy must be guided towards a sustainable and birdsafe venture. entire ecosysyems are at stake both over sea and land, since both birds and generators rely on the windiest places on earth. Please stand up for these modifications to th generators to become compulsary so that windpower takes its rightful place under energies labeled sustainable and no further excuses can be argued against it but also to safeguard our majestic wildlife with its indespensable ecosystem. Members of your scientific community are needed to make this point heard and enforced. Please do not underestimate these two factors are taking a serious toll on our natural legacy.

Thanks for the information. It's new for me these theme. It will be great the releasing of the inventory of marine IBAs in the high seas! Hope to see it. Greetings from Peru.

I have observed birds here in the western Mojave Desert for more than 6 decades. For 2yrs, a large flock of CA Seagulls have occupied the quiet old school site (paved parking lot, grass athletic field, vacant buildings, sycamore trees- about 5 acres). The gulls have chased away the resident ravens, just as the ravens did not tolerate the hawks, golden eagles, and turkey vultures. In the past, gulls stayed near the beaches- now the habitat of the "Housewives of Orange County"!

Exceptional post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject? I'd be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thank you!

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