Marine: Protecting vital seabird habitats

Adelie Penguin © S Winnard
Adelie Penguin © S Winnard


Tracking Sites Bycatch Policy


Seabirds are one of the world’s most threatened groups of birds, facing a variety of dangers across the oceans. That’s why BirdLife works with researchers and conservationists around the world to pinpoint the most important sites for the conservation of these critical marine predators and the ecosystems they are part of.


Marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs)

Marine IBAs are priority sites for seabird conservation at sea, identified using criteria that are consistent across the globe. These sites tend to be foraging areas around important seabird colonies, or areas further out at sea where birds congregate at different times of year, which are visited by globally significant numbers of seabirds.

We use a variety of data sources to identify Marine IBAs including censuses of seabird colonies, remote tracking data, surveys by researchers at sea, and scientific information on seabird behaviour and habitat preferences. In recent years, tracking data have become the cornerstone of our approach, providing unparalleled information on seabird distribution – especially in distant, off-shore areas that are difficult to monitor.


How we use Marine IBAs

Marine IBAs aren’t just a place on a map – they are used to inform conservation action across the world. These range from local-level marine spatial planning processes, including identifying areas suitable for protection, to international agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity's identification of Ecologically and Biologically Significant Marine Areas in the high seas (Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction). One Marine IBA in the mid-north Atlantic was identified using a staggering 2,000 tracks from 22 different seabird species contributed by 66 researchers, and is currently proposed as an MPA. In the European Union, Marine IBAs inform the designation of Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive, as part of the ‘Natura 2000’ network of protected sites.


Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs)

The success of the IBA programme led to similar criteria and site networks being created for many other groups of plants and animals. In order to bring it all together, the global conservation community has developed an all-encompassing set of criteria applicable to all species to identify important sites: Key Biodiversity Areas. The KBA criteria applicable to marine top predators are similar to the criteria used to identify Marine IBAs. Because of this, our Marine Programme scientists now use similar techniques to help identify KBAs for a whole suite of other marine species – not just seabirds.


Explore our atlas of Marine IBAs here: