7 Oct 2015

Pacific's Petrels in Peril: a new initiative to save these iconic birds

Kermadec Petrel patrols Morane Atoll. Photo by Fred Jacq
By Mike Britton

For generations of sailors and those who love the sea, seabirds have been their companion, entertainment and shared the times when the seas turn angry.  They can be majestic, funny, noisy, mysterious and spectacular.  Sprinkled across the tropical Pacific, the innumerable islands of Oceania are home to some of the most unusual bird communities on the planet.  The Pacific is the seabird capital of the world. But these companions of travellers, fishers and visitors to the coast are in trouble, especially in the Pacific. 

They are more threatened than any other comparable group of birds.   And their status has deteriorated faster over recent decades. Many of the birds that live in this region are endangered. Many more have become extinct as a result of human activity, in both recent and prehistoric times. And some really special seabirds are right on the brink of joining the legions of ghosts of past birds.

Over the years BirdLife and its partners have taken actions to protect (and find) different species but the problem is so big we want a Pacific wide strategy for the conservation of this critically endangered group of seabirds.  We are calling it 'Pacific Petrels in Peril'.

The petrels, which conventionally include the petrels, shearwaters and storm-petrels belonging to the families Procellariidae, Oceanitidae and Hydrobatidae, have lost far more populations in Oceania than any other bird family. That is why this new programme gives emphasis to this group – the ‘Petrels’.  Specific projects that are being developed as part of the strategy for different flagship petrel species will also help other seabird species. 

Priority actions will be to find the breeding sites of Fiji Petrel, Beck's Petrel and Heinroths Shearwater.  Overall there are more than 18 species for whch action is needed including Vanuatu Petrel, Collard Petrel, Polynesian Storm-petrel, Tahiti Petrel, Phoenix Petrel and Tropical shearwaters.  And probably more.

Most islands in Oceania have not had systematic surveys of breeding seabirds. While there are some threats at sea for seabirds breeding in the region, the primary threats are on land. Until we can eliminate predation pressure and the degradation of nesting/roosting colonies and establish these as secure sites there will be no improvement in their conservation status.

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The help of seabird lovers the world over is needed to develop the first coherent and comprehensive plan for the conservation of Pacific seabirds.  With your support we will find the breeding sites to allow conservation action to make them safe, confirm the population status of species and develop conservation plans for each of them.  We will also improve the current conservation work, and where we need to start new actions.  This intiative is bigger than BirdLife and we will work with other organisations, develop networks for improved communication, resource sharing, capacity building and further project development.