Marine: Putting seabirds on the map
Seabirds undertake some of the most incredible migratory journeys in the world. The Arctic Tern travels from pole to pole every year, covering a staggering 80,000 kilometres, and many petrels and shearwaters journey across entire oceans from their breeding sites to wintering areas. Protecting such highly mobile bird species is a challenge, requiring collaboration between a wide range of different people and organisations, often working at local scales and with limited funds.
Inevitably, conservationists can lose sight of the big picture if there’s no single place to share this information. This is where the Seabird Tracking Database comes into play. This vital resource was established by BirdLife in 2003 in order to identify the most important sites for seabirds – initially for albatrosses and petrels, but since expanded to cover all seabird species.
The database now holds over 23,000 individual tracks from 119 seabird species, comprising some 12 million data points. The data were collected by over 190 contributors from 30 countries, making it one of the largest marine conservation collaborations in the world.
How does the database help save seabirds?
Datasets like these form the scientific basis for most of our marine conservation work. They are crucial for analysing where seabirds are likely to come into fatal contact with fishing vessels, or identifying 'hotspots of use' to inform Marine Protected Area proposals and marine spatial planning initiatives.
The Seabird Tracking Database has already facilitated significant milestones in our work. We have recently identified new marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas for a variety of species, ranging from shearwaters and petrels off the coast of West Africa to penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula.
The database has also helped us to pinpoint seabird hotspots in the remote high seas, far away from most human observers. A key seabird hotspot in the mid-north Atlantic is currently being proposed as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). Elsewhere, tracking data are being used to support MPA proposals in South Africa and Tristan da Cunha, and our analyses of seabird distributions have helped to tackle the problem of seabird bycatch in fisheries across the world. The work of our scientists and their collaborators is well-recognised through publications in several top-tier scientific journals.
Every new contribution adds to our knowledge of how seabirds use the oceans. We are extremely grateful to every scientist and funder who has made this success a reality. As technologies and techniques advance, there seems no limit to what seabird tracking might reveal in the future.
Watch below the foraging trip of Black-browed albatross breeding at South Georgia - a remote island group in the South Atlantic Ocean. Tracking data provided by Richard Phillips/British Antarctic Survey. Animation created by: Rafael Mares/Internet of Elephants