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Europe and Central Asia

New protected areas announced for seabirds in Portugal

By SPEA/BirdLife Europe, 8 Oct 2015

Good news for seabird conservation in Portugal, as the country's government approves the designation of two new Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

As well as the approval of the Cabo Raso and Aveiro/Nazaré sites, two existing SPAs are also being expanded at Cabo Espichel and Costa Sudoeste. The decision was based on seabird monitoring data, collected along the Portuguese coast over the past ten years. BirdLife’s Portuguese Partner SPEA, the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds, says the Portuguese Government’s decision is the first step towards comprehensive marine conservation and seabird protection in Portugal.

The new marine protected areas are designated under European legislation (the Birds Directive) and will enhance the conservation of migrating seabirds along the Portuguese coast. This is also a boost to the Natura 2000 network, the EU-wide network which safeguards wildlife protection and habitats. It comes at a crucial time for the network, with the Birds and Habitats Directives (the laws that led to the network's creation) both under the microscope as the European Commission carries out a 'Fitness Check' on them. Nature conservation groups have already urged the Commission not to re-open the directives and also to make sure they are better implemented.

These new and expanded sites will add to the existing Portuguese marine SPA network, offering protection to important feeding and resting areas used by the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater and other seabirds.

Joana Andrade, SPEA’s Marine Conservation Department Co-ordinator, said: “The identification of the proposed sites for SPA designation is based on the work developed by SPEA and different partners who, over the past decade, have focused on seabird monitoring and on the study of their behaviour at sea, under different projects co-financed by the European Union.”

“Seabirds are the most endangered group of birds in the world and the legal protection of these marine areas is essential for seabirds conservation. However, this work can only be achieved through the establishment of appropriate management plans and through a model of public participation, engaging with stakeholders such as fishermen and economic agents among others, since they will be the key agents for the practical implementation of management plans.”

There are around 30 seabird species regular occurring along the Portuguese mainland coast. In addition to the breeding species (such as Cory’s Shearwater and Audouin’s Gull), many other birds use Portuguese waters during their migratory routes and as feeding grounds, resting and wintering areas. Some of these species occur in significant numbers when compared with their European or global populations, including the Northern Gannet and the Balearic shearwater (the most endangered seabird in Europe).