Europe and Central Asia
15 Dec 2015

Sea Alert 2015: The marine crisis continues

Bycatch continues to be one of the biggest threats to seabirds in the EU. Photo: Dave Peake/Marine Photobank
By Marguerite Tarzia

As we wrote about in July, seabirds in Europe face a range of different threats and many of them are showing alarming population declines as captured in the European Red List of Birds assessment. Across the European region, which extends from the Arctic to the Mediterranean and Black Sea, 15 seabird species are facing threats so severe that they could be on a slippery slope towards extinction. In the EU, this number is even more alarming: 21 seabird species are facing a high risk of extinction.

Threats such as climate change, overfishing, bycatch, invasive predators and pollution are impacting seabirds across their range. Seabirds are excellent indicators of ocean health, given that they travel widely, use both coastal and open ocean and that many species feed on forage fish that are low on the food chain. Declines in seabirds are therefore another loud alarm bell spelling out the danger we are facing both on land and at sea. 

The BirdLife Europe partnership has been working hard this year to ensure that seabirds and their habitats are properly protected. We have continued to focus our conservation work across two key areas: identifying key sites for seabirds and ensuring they are protected, and working to reduce the numbers accidentally killed by fishing vessels (seabird bycatch).

Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas are an important tool for protecting species, their food sources and the habitats they rely on to survive. To successfully protect areas at sea, governments and the scientific community need to know the most vital areas – the sites where biodiversity is highest or most vulnerable. For over 10 years, BirdLife Partners have been working to identify marine Important Bird Areas for seabirds that then can be used as a ‘shadow list’ for Marine Protected Area identification by national governments. This has been particularly useful in the EU’s Natura 2000 network. 

Throughout 2015, there has been considerable progress by the Partnership in identifying new marine Important Bird Areas in Finland, Slovenia, Malta and Italy. There has also been progress in turning these areas into Natura 2000 sites. For example the Portuguese Government designated two new Special Protected Areas and expanded the boundary of two existing sites directly in line with the marine Important Bird Area network.

Seabird bycatch

Seabird bycatch is a big problem in Europe often ignored by governments. We believe at least 200,000 seabirds across the region are caught each year. In 2015, the BirdLife partnership has actively collaborated with fishermen to tackle seabird bycatch. BirdLife’s Seabird Task Force was launched this year with the aim to establish a European collaborative approach against the issue.

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It is currently made up of two expert teams led by BirdLife Partners – one working in the Spanish Mediterranean and one in Lithuania – on demersal longlines and on gillnets. This year we have made significant progress in building the relationships with the fishing industry in each of these countries, with our observer team out on boats to monitor bird bycatch and begin testing mitigation solutions alongside fishers. Our Partners in Portugal and Germany have also been working with fishermen on bycatch, and we hope to expand our work further in 2016 to include work in the Gran Sol fishery (off Ireland) and enhance our work on gillnets in Poland and Portugal. 

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.