Taking action for the world’s most threatened group of birds
A recent major review in BirdLife's journal Bird Conservation International confirmed that the world's seabirds are more threatened than any other group of birds. Of 346 species, 101(29%) are globally threatened and a further 10% are Near Threatened, while nearly half are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. The albatross family is especially imperilled, with 15 of 22 species threatened with extinction.
Threats to the world’s seabirds: Impacts on seabirds are varied and widespread, as detailed in this review by BirdLife International
- Pollution – Case study 1, Case study 2, Case study 3
- Climate change – Case study 1, Case study 2, Case study 3
- Human disturbance – Case study 1, Case study 2
- Invasive species - Case study 1, Case study 2
Human activities lie behind these declines. At sea, commercial fisheries have degraded fish stocks and caused the deaths of innumerable seabirds through accidental bycatch, while on land the introduction of invasive species such as rats and cats has killed off many breeding colonies. Every year longline fishing fleets kill an estimated 300,000 seabirds: birds are killed when the sinking hooks are still near the sea's surface; foraging birds grab the bait and are hooked, dragged under, and drowned.
Research by BirdLife Partners has shown that significant numbers of seabirds are also killed in trawling, particularly around New Zealand, southern Africa and South America. In addition, it is estimated that, globally, more than 400,000 seabirds die in gillnets every year, with hot spots around the Baltic Sea, Nordic regions and the Northwest Pacific.
The BirdLife Partnership is working together to take action, including identifying gear changes that can make longline, trawl and gillnet fishing less hazardous to seabirds, influencing global and regional policies affecting seabirds, and protecting nesting sites, especially by eradicating invasive species.
BirdLife Partners have also been engaged in mapping marine Important Bird Areas around coasts, in territorial waters and on the high seas, and the BirdLife Partnership is working with national governments and international bodies to create a network of Marine Protected Areas. In 2012, BirdLife published the e-Atlas of Marine Important Bird Areas , with many sites already recognised in the CBD process to identify Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs) in need of protection, a step on the way to protecting them. This has been directly informed by the vast Tracking Ocean Wanderers Database, the result of a long-term, ongoing collaboration with a host of seabird scientists.
Bridging the gaps between knowledge, policy and action
BirdLife International established its Global Seabird Conservation Programme in 1997. This has evolved into the BirdLife International Marine Programme: a programme underpinned by science, influencing global policy decisions and practically testing and demonstrating, alongside industry, the practices that we promote.
The objectives of the programme are:
- Promote the collaborative international action that is vital to arrest seabird declines
- Advocate for the conservation of seabirds at national, regional and global levels
- Work directly with fishermen and other stakeholders to reduce seabird bycatch and other threats to seabird populations
Policy and science
We manage the world’s seabird data
The policy work of the Marine Programme is conducted at international, regional and national levels. We continue to work with the major Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) to ensure vessels operating in international waters use best practice seabird bycatch mitigation measures. We are important contributors to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels and National Plans of Action to reduce seabird bycatch in fisheries. We work with the Convention on Biological Diversity to prioritise areas in need of enhanced management and through a range of regional conventions to ensure seabirds are an integral part of Marine Protected Area design and designation. Read more about our policy work here.
Science work is focused on collation and analysis of data to support our policy work and to make seabird data available for use by conservation practitioners and policy makers, fisheries, the energy sector, marine pollution management planners, and the insurance industry. We test and refine seabird bycatch mitigation measures and collect data on seabird bycatch. We manage a range of databases to support this work including the global atlas of marine Important Bird Areas, the Tracking Ocean Wanderers database (the largest compilation of tracking data in existence), a seabird foraging behaviour database and other support global initiatives such as those established by the World Seabird Union.
Fishing fleets have taken our message on board
To reverse the declines being experienced by almost half of all seabird species, the BirdLife International Marine Programme works closely with the communities that can help bring about a change in seabird fortunes.
We work closely with BirdLife Partners, national experts and the scientific community in the ongoing development of the marine Important Bird Area network. We have conducted seabird bycatch workshops with fishermen and fisheries managers all over the world, and hope to build on our experience of working with coastal communities by instigating Locally Managed Marine Area-style initiatives
One of the most powerful examples of our community engagement was created in 2006: the Albatross Task Force - the world's first international team of expert instructors in seabird bycatch mitigation measures.
Albatross Task Force teams are based in the bycatch 'hotspots' of southern Africa and South America, where albatrosses come into contact with large and diverse longline and trawl fishing fleets, ranging from huge high seas vessels to small artisanal boats.
Since its formation, we have seen dramatic reductions in the numbers of albatrosses and other seabirds killed, with the ATF in South Africa leading the way by demonstrating a sustained reduction of >85% in trawl and longline fisheries. In fact all six ATF teams that work with industrial fisheries have successfully shown seabird bycatch can be heavily reduced and even eliminated once measures are implemented. This is a sure sign that Albatross Task Force members really are getting something practical done to help save albatrosses from extinction.
The mitigation research of the ATF in pelagic longline (tuna) fisheries feeds directly into our work with RFMOs, and has been influential in the steps taken to reduce high seas seabird bycatch.
Get in touch with Marine Programme staff at: email@example.com