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Peru’s spectacular seabirds seeking sanctuary

Urgent Conservation Needs

Peru’s seabirds, especially the spectacular aggregations at its guano islands, are world famous. However, a new BirdLife report indicates that many of the sites and species are under increased threat and urgently need better protection.

The new report - jointly published with the American Bird Conservancy - details the outcomes of a workshop held in Lima (Peru) last year entitled Seabirds and Seabird-Fishery Interactions. The objective was to bring together individuals and organisations working on seabird-related topics in Peru in order to develop a coordinated plan of action in relation to seabird conservation and management priorities. The workshop focussed on identifying breeding sites for key species and addressing the principal threats to these. Paramount is the need to take action now to preserve the Peruvian guano islands, whose seabird populations have decreased from 15-20 million to just 2 million over the last 30 years, to the extent that harvesting their guano – bird droppings - may no longer be economically viable. This guano has been harvested for centuries along the coast of Peru and is an important source of organic fertilizer. John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme explained that “the combination of the immensely productive cold Humboldt Current offshore and the dry climate onshore created conditions whereby Peru’s coastal islands hosted vast colonies of seabirds whose droppings were preserved in layers tens of metres deep.”

Although the guano harvest was partly responsible for reducing seabird numbers, if it stopped now, the limited protection most islands currently enjoy using guano wardens would cease. This would result in widespread disturbance and depredation of the important seabird colonies. The delegates agreed that the breeding sites urgently need more protection.

Successful transfer of the sites to the Peruvian National Protected Areas System would require substantial resources to develop and implement appropriate management plans which have the support of regional and local authorities and communities. Dr Croxall commented that “a major international fundraising initiative will be needed, both to protect the islands until a sustainable longer-term plan is developed as well as to create and underpin this plan”.

The report also highlights the plight of three Globally Threatened, and declining, seabirds for which Peru holds a big portion of the world population:

* Vulnerable Humboldt Penguin Spheniscus humboldtii: now fewer than 5,000 birds remain. They are threatened by fisheries bycatch and competition as well as disturbance and illegal capture.

* Endangered Peruvian Diving Petrel Pelecanoides garnotii: now restricted to two main sites and threatened by hunting, introduced predators, reduced food availability and fisheries bycatch.

* Endangered Peruvian Tern Sterna lorata: now fewer than 1,000 birds at no more than three known breeding sites and threatened there by disturbance and coastal development.“An urgent priority for the conservation of Peruvian Terns is to protect the largest known breeding site, within the Paracas reserve, from disturbance by tourists and vehicles” said Dr Croxall. He further explained that “for all species effective site protection and management are needed. The workshop identified about 40 sites which need to be properly safeguarded if the great spectacles of Peruvian seabirds are to survive”

Currently only two receive statutory protection.

The report also addresses issues arising from: longline fishing and bycatch of seabirds; the concept and practice of identifying marine IBAs; and the management of anchoveta fish stocks to reduce competition between seabirds and the fishing industry. The outcomes of discussions on these topics are presented and the full document can be downloaded. The workshop was organised by the Global Seabird Programme of BirdLife International in conjunction with the American Bird Conservancy seabird program.

4th July 2014