Marine: How we work

Arctic Tern © Mark Medcalf/Shutterstock
Arctic Tern © Mark Medcalf/Shutterstock

Developing solutions: the BirdLife International Marine Programme

Recognising the multiple threats affecting seabirds, BirdLife International established its International Marine Programme in 1997, now working in 120 countries and in waters beyond their national jurisdictions, known as the high seas.

The objective of the programme is to halt the decline of seabird populations. We work through:

  1. Influencing marine policy. We advocate for the conservation of seabirds at national, regional and global levels by safeguarding sites and species and tackling the pressures on them.
  2. Promoting conservation through sound science. We stop seabird declines through collaborative action and research, particularly by working to protect and manage important marine sites for seabirds and other biodiversity. Our conservation action in the ground is based on robust science.
  3. Tackling seabird bycatch. We work with fishermen, national experts and the scientific community to reduce seabird bycatch through testing and implementing solutions.


1. Influencing marine policy

Our policy work is conducted alongside our national BirdLife Partners, and in collaboration with other NGOs at international, national and regional levels to influence the development, adoption and implementation of regulations and measures to reduce threats to seabirds on ocean-wide scales. The two main strands of our policy work aim to protect and reduce bycatch of seabirds in fisheries. We work with:

People in charge of the management of fisheries

Artisanal demersal longline vessel fishing in Mediterranean © Pep Arcos, SEO/BirdLife

The organisations dedicated to the sustainable management of fishery resources in a particular region, or of highly migratory species, are known as Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs).

We conducted the first-ever environmental review of the world’s RFMOs, finding that most were not yet addressing the incidental catch of seabirds in fisheries effectively. We now work closely with them to ensure vessels operating in international waters use best practice seabird bycatch mitigation measures.

The Tracking Ocean Wanderers Database has been very important as it has enabled the overlap between seabird populations and fisheries to be mapped.

Significant progress has been made: all five tuna commissions now require their longline vessels to use bycatch reduction measures in most areas overlapping with albatrosses.

Global agreements promoting marine conservation

We work with the agreement to save albatrosses and petrels. Southern Giant Petrel © David Osborn

The agreement to save albatrosses and petrels

The Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels is a legally binding treaty that seeks to conserve albatrosses and petrels through international action.

BirdLife provides them with data on albatross and petrel Red List status, information from the Albatross Task Force, and collaborates to engage with the above mentioned RFMOs.

We have jointly produced mitigation factsheets that detail the measures available to reduce bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries.

The United Nations and the high seas

BirdLife is working in partnership and in support of the High Seas Alliance to influence negotiations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) towards a new agreement for the conservation of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (ocean waters that fall beyond the 200 nautical miles which countries have governance on or the high seas).

Despite covering over 60% of the oceans and holding high diversity of life, there is yet no mechanism that allows for their protection. 

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Also known as the Biodiversity Convention, this international treaty signed by 196 parties has three main goals including the conservation of biodiversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.

Our marine work with the CBD is focused on supporting the implementation of the Marine and Coastal Biodiversity and the Protected Areas Programmes of Work, particularly on the identification of Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs).

We are providing governments with extensive data compilation and analyses for the EBSAs identification process across all oceans and seas in the world. . We also work to influence negotiations  at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention for the approval of areas identified and the recognition of the need for EBSAs’ protection and/or management. 

Read more about our work with the CBD.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

The International Plan of Action for reducing the incidental catch of seabirds in longline fisheries (known as IPOA-Seabirds) was developed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1998.

Countries are encouraged by the FAO to implement National Plans of Action to reduce seabird bycatch.

We work nationally to make sure those plans are effective and support the development of Best Practice Technical Guidelines, with the aim of expanding the action plan to all the world’s fisheries.

Regional mechanisms

We work with the Marine Stewardship Council to ensure their certification includes seabird safe fisheries © MSC

At the regional level, we work through a range of regional mechanisms and conventions to ensure seabirds are an integral part of Marine Protected Area design and designation, and so that threats to seabird populations, such as those originated from oil spills or other sources of pollution, are minimized. Examples include the collaborative work with the OSPAR, Nairobi and Abidjan Conventions or the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, among others.

Certification agencies

BirdLife is actively involved with the Marine Stewardship Council, widely regarded as the most robust fisheries sustainability certification scheme, through membership of its Stakeholder Council, and through commenting on individual fishery certifications.

At the national level

The BirdLife Partnership is also working with national and local governments for the development and implementation of a range of policies including new regulations, adoption of national and local programmes or securing public funding for marine conservation. We centre our attention to the establishment of networks of marine protected areas, and the development of Marine Spatial Planning as well as the fisheries policies mentioned above.

Tracking Ocean Wanderers database: the largest compilation of long-term seabird tracking data in existence © BirdLife International

2. Conservation through sound science

Our science and research is focused on data collation and analysis, used to support our policy work and to make seabird data available for use by conservationists, policy-makers, fisheries, the energy sector, marine pollution management planners and the insurance industry. Our expertise and evidence have catalysed action to identify and tackle threats to seabirds.

We test and refine seabird bycatch mitigation measures and collect data on accidental seabird bycatch. We are at the forefront of developing new mitigation measures, including in gillnet fisheries, where no best practice measures exist at present.

We also manage a range of databases and lead scientific analysis to respond to key conservation questions:

BirdLife’s science-based approach informs species protection, from seaducks to shearwaters, puffins and penguins. For example, we are building the understanding of penguin movements at sea and potential threats from fisheries, and we have established a forum for researchers to share experiences and determine conservation priorities for the enigmatic Pterodroma petrels.

Velvet Scoter caught in fishing net © Julius Morkunas

3. Tackling seabird bycatch

To reverse the declines being experienced by almost half of all seabird species, the Marine Programme works closely with the communities and marine champions that can help bring about a change in seabird fortunes.

These include BirdLife Partners, national experts and the scientific community with whom we continue to develop the marine Important Bird Area network; and fishers and fisheries managers, with whom we have been working to develop methods that can make fishing less hazardous to seabirds. 

One of the most powerful examples of our community engagement – the Albatross Task Force (ATF) – was created in 2006. It is the world's first international team of expert instructors in seabird bycatch mitigation measures. The ATF teams are based in the bycatch 'hotspots' of southern Africa and South America, where albatrosses come into contact with large and diverse fishing fleets.

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 in albatross bycatch of 99%in the hake trawl fishery. Following this successful model, we established the Seabird Task Force, tackling longline and gillnet bycatch in Europe.


Catch up on the latest news from the Albatross Task Force teams


Relevant publications:


Back to the Marine home page