Portugal’s Berlenga Island welcomes newest inhabitant
Our Portuguese partner SPEA is delighted to announce that a Band-rumped storm petrel chick has hatched on Berlenga Island. Sonia Neves explains why the island’s newest – and cutest – inhabitant represents a hard-won victory for seabird conservation.
Not many people are lucky enough to see a Band-rumped storm petrel Oceanodroma castro. This dark seabird, named after the white marking on its rump, spends most of its life at sea. Even when it comes ashore to breed, it remains elusive. It nests in hollows on inaccessible cliffs or rock crevices on desert islands, to keep safe from predators.
And now, for the first time since records began, a Band-rumped storm petrel has hatched on Berlenga, the largest island of the Berlengas archipelago – a set of small islands northwest of Lisbon. Apart from Azores and Madeira, the uninhabited Farilhões islets in the Berlengas archipelago is the only other place in Portugal where the Band-rumped storm petrel is known to nest. However, this elusive seabird had not been nesting on Berlenga itself – until now…
For the past four years, SPEA has coordinated the EU-funded LIFE project ‘Life Berlengas’ which aims to conserve the biodiversity of the archipelago. At the end of last year, the team was finally able to declare the Berlenga Island ‘predator-free’ following conservation efforts to remove threats from rats brought by humans.
Once conditions were right, all that remained was for the birds to realise that the island is now a safe haven. To lure Band-rumped storm petrels, the LIFE Berlengas team used audio recordings of the species’ calls, and built artificial nests that mimic the crevices the birds would normally nest in. The lures seem to have worked, but the team isn’t stopping there.
On the island itself, the team continues to restore native vegetation and monitor seabirds. At the same time, SPEA is working with fishermen in the region, to prevent seabirds from being fatally caught in fishing gear. And they also work with tourist operators to ensure that the thousands of people who visit the island every year take the necessary precautions to prevent invasive predators like mice or rats from returning.
The hatching of this chick is living proof that the island has successfully become a seabird safe haven. “We hope this chick is the first of many,” says Joana Andrade, coordinator of SPEA’s Marine Conservation Department and the Life Berlengas project. “The species’ success on Berlenga is in all our hands: visitors, authorities, tourist operators, fishermen… we can all help these birds thrive.”
The project Life Berlengas aims to conserve the biodiversity of the Berlengas archipelago. The project is coordinated by SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and carried out in collaboration with Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF), Câmara Municipal de Peniche (Peniche Town Council), and the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of the New University of Lisbon. The Escola Superior de Tecnologia e do Mar do Instituto Politécnico de Leiria (School of Tourism and Maritime Technology of the Polytechnic Institute of Leiria) is an observer. The project, which runs from 2014 to 2019, is co-financed by the European Union’s LIFE+ Programme and by the Portuguese government’s Environmental Fund (Fundo Ambiental). www.berlengas.eu
Sonia Neves, SPEA (BirdLife Portugal)