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Seabirds On A Worrying Downslope

Global Assessment Reveals

More than any other group of birds, seabirds, including albatrosses and penguins, are in trouble. That’s the view of scientists from the RSPB and BirdLife International who have studied the fortunes of all 346 species of seabird inhabiting all the world’s oceans.

The findings show the status of seabirds has deteriorated rapidly in recent decades and several species are now perilously close to extinction. Nearly half of all seabird species are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. Several of these species, including the Tristan albatross, are the responsibility of the UK.

Ninety-seven seabird species, including 17 albatrosses and 11 penguins, are facing extinction and a further 35 species are nearing this threshold. The report is published in the scientific journal Bird Conservation International.Spending most of their time away from land, seabirds only need to come ashore to nest and lay their eggs. But even though these birds spend most of their lives away from large numbers of people, their relative isolation doesn’t shield them from facing extinction.

Dr Ben Sullivan is a seabird scientist with the RSPB and BirdLife International. He is also one of the paper’s authors.

He said: “While the destruction of tropical forests and the need for urgent action is well known, there is another extinction crisis which we need to address: seabirds. At sea, hundreds of thousands of seabirds are dying as they get caught as a byproduct of the fishing industry. While on land, introduced rats, mice, cats and goats are destroying habitat or predating seabirds, especially remote islands where these birds can nest in huge numbers. These factors are taking their toll on species which have inhabited the oceans for millions of years.”

The global assessment shows that New Zealand, with 33 species of seabird nesting nowhere else, is a priority for protecting threatened species, but with eight species of seabird unique to the UK’s overseas territories, the UK is second in the world priority list, ahead of the Galapagos, Australia, Mexico and Japan.The RSPB and BirdLife International are involved with many conservation programmes designed to give seabirds the greatest chance of survival. On the UK overseas territories, the RSPB is involved with programmes to eradicate non-native species, such as rats, cats and mice. At sea, BirdLife International is working with eight countries (two in Africa and six in South America) to reduce the estimated 300,000 seabirds dying annually in the global longline fishery alone.

“Seabirds are a diverse group of birds and they provide a valuable indicator of the health of our marine environment,” added Professor John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme.

The RSPB and BirdLife International is lobbying for the creation of a global network of marine protected areas around the sites most important for birds. This network should include UK waters, which provide a home for around 30 species of bird, including the Balearic shearwater: a dove-sized relative of the albatross, which visits the coasts of the South West regularly.

4th July 2014