Europe and Central Asia
16 Nov 2020

Protecting shearwaters on land and at sea: a strong partnership to preserve two Mediterranean species

© Andre Labetaa / Shutterstock
By Antonio Vulcano and Daniel Mitchell

LIFE PanPuffinus started September and this is welcome news for some of the most elusive inhabitants of our coasts and seas. The project is a Mediterranean-wide collaboration for the conservation of two endemic and threatened Mediterranean seabird species: the Balearic Shearwater and the Yelkouan Shearwater.

BirdLife Partners from five countries (Malta, France, Greece, Portugal and Spain) will join forces and share knowledge to investigate further the whereabouts of these birds, their interactions with fisheries, and the perils these sea voyagers face during their lifecycles.  

Both species spend a significant portion of their life on the open ocean, rarely visiting land except during the breeding season. As highly mobile species, moving freely over the ocean, and using a wide variety of habitats, they encounter a diversity of threats. Both species breed exclusively in the Mediterranean, but (like many other seabirds) they wander through different seas, in particular during the non-breeding season. Balearic shearwaters visit the Atlantic coast of Portugal, France and southern England, whilst large numbers of Yelkouan shearwaters winter in the Black Sea. This is why transboundary collaboration is vital, and the involvement of a wide array of stakeholders is necessary to ensure safe seas and colonies for these iconic seabirds.

According to the last EU assessment of the status of birds (2020), the Balearic shearwater is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List, whilst the Yelkouan shearwater is classified as Vulnerable (VU). Both species are very susceptible to a changing environment and are affected by multiple marine and terrestrial threats. Among them, there are threats common to other species occurring in the Mediterranean, such as pollution, bycatch, climate change & severe weather. When it comes to breeding seabirds, invasive alien species and human intrusions & disturbance are the main threats to these Mediterranean dwellers, like many other seabirds of Mare Nostrum. 


In addition, there are emerging problems, such as plastics, which might affect both Yelkoaun and Balearic shearwaters at a great scale in the next decades. Although the results are yet to be seen for many seabird species, the likelihood of overlap between seabirds and plastic is several times higher in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, compared to other sea basins (in litt.)

Furthermore, what happens in the Mediterranean does not stay in the Mediterranean; this is valid for the seabirds and their threats. Political responsibility for the conservation of these two species lays within several EU and non-EU countries, and legislation needs to be taken into account (together with effective conservation efforts), to enhance the protection of these birds and tackle the hazards they face. The project is an example of collaboration between European countries of two sea basins, and partners should bolster their teamwork in the future by involving stakeholders from the non-EU southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and any other important areas.

The project aims to improve the conservation status of these endangered Puffinus species across the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic coast of Portugal through transboundary conservation efforts to tackle the two major threats – one terrestrial, the predation of eggs and chicks by invasive mammal species (like rats and cats), and one marine, the incidental capture of birds in fishing gear. By exchanging experiences between countries working on the conservation of these pelagic seabirds, the BirdLife partnership will improve monitoring and data collection, strengthen stakeholder collaboration, increase the efficiency of conservation efforts and improve understanding of threats in order to minimize their impact. The project actions will also contribute to improve the population trends of the shearwaters by tackling their at-sea and on-land threats, while ensuring the conservation of their habitat, which is a pivotal step for the implementation of International Species Action Plans of both species.

As a strong partnership, we are thrilled to start this 5-year adventure and spend time at key colonies and on boats to shed light on the lives of the shearwaters and contribute to their conservation across the Mediterranean and beyond!

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.