Seabirds and Marine
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% Near Threatened, while nearly half are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. The albatross family is especially imperilled, with 17 of 22 species threatened with extinction.
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 set about three billion hooks, killing an estimated 300,000 seabirds, of which 100,000 are albatrosses. The slaughter of seabirds takes place when the hooks are still visible 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 and gill-net fisheries, particularly around New Zealand, southern Africa and South America.
The situation would be even worse without the actions and lobbying work of the BirdLife Partnership. These actions have included changing fishing methods to make them less hazardous to seabirds, and protecting nesting sites, especially by eradicating invasive species. A network of BirdLife Partners is influencing global and regional policies affecting seabirds.
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 , describing 3,000 sites worldwide. Over 150 marine IBAs have already been recognised in the CBD process to identify Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs), a step on the way to protecting them.
Bridging the gaps between knowledge, policy and action
The world's oceans are open and dynamic systems that pose few physical barriers to the dispersal and migration of many seabird species. Seabird conservation issues therefore need to be addressed globally, which led BirdLife International to establish its Global Seabird Conservation Programme in 1997.
The objectives of the programme are:
- To promote new and existing initiatives to reduce the incidental mortality of seabirds by fisheries, particularly that of longlining.
- To address seabird conservation issues at a global level, as appropriate, and engage relevant stakeholders regionally and internationally
- To establish and support a network of BirdLife partners and others to influence global and regional policies affecting seabirds.
- To eradicate invasive alien species and restore important seabird colonies
Policy and science
We manage the world’s seabird data
In 2004, BirdLife International publishedTracking Ocean Wanderers: the global distribution of albatrosses and petrels. This report was the result of a unique collaboration between scientists worldwide, analysing the results of satellite-tracking data to reveal the distribution of albatrosses and petrels across the world's oceans. Now accessible online as the Global Procellariiform Tracking Database (GPTD), managed by BirdLife, this rapidly growing resource provides a comprehensive dataset that can be used by conservationists, scientists, governments and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.
Since 2007 BirdLife International has been compiling a database of seabird foraging ranges and ecological preferences in the marine environment. The aim is to provide an authoritative global dataset that can be used to delimit marine IBAs adjacent to major breeding colonies, highlight gaps in our knowledge of foraging behaviour, and help identify key areas for future research.
As part of the recently established World Seabird Union, BirdLife is helping build a World Seabird Colony Database which will provide a better understanding of how seabird populations fluctuate over time andspace; allow for analysis related to existing and emerging threats such as climate change; assist prioritisation exercises on regional and global scales (such as sites most in need of alien eradication); and help identify future management priorities.
The e-Atlas of Marine Important Bird Areas is the result of six years of effort that, to date, has involved around 40 BirdLife Partners, in collaboration with the world's leading seabird scientists, government departments of environment and fisheries, and the secretariats of several international conventions. It provides essential information on more than 3,000 sites worldwide for use by conservation practitioners and policy makers, fisheries, the energy sector, marine pollution management planners, and the insurance industry.
Fishing fleets have taken our message on board
In 2006, we formed the Albatross Task Force - the world's first international team of skilled, at-sea instructors.
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.
Since its formation, we have seen dramatic reductions in the numbers of albatrosses and other seabirds killed. This is a sure sign that Albatross Task Force members really are getting something practical done to help save albatrosses from extinction.
Global Seabird Programme Coordinator:
Dr Ben Sullivan
International Marine Policy Officer:
Dr Cleo Small
Global Marine IBA Officer:
BirdLife’s Pacific Seabird Programme Manager:
Albatross Task Force Coordinator:
South America Regional Coordinator:
Southern Africa Regional Coordinator:
Dr Ross Wanless
European Regional Coordinator: