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Posted on 18/03/2019 by Phillip Island Nature Parks

Six threats are driving the decline of a remarkable seabird family: global study reveals


As top predators, seabirds are crucial indicators of the health of the marine ecosystem, and they are sending us an alarming message. Seabird populations have declined faster than other bird taxa in recent history, making shearwaters and petrels one of the most endangered groups of seabirds. These birds are shy, cryptic and under a lot of human induced pressures to survive in today’s world.

These pressures on land and at sea have led to a poor conservation status for many of the 120 species of petrels with 49 (41%) listed as threatened species and 61 (51%) suffering population declines. A global review published this week in Frontiers in Marine Science assembled 38 petrel researchers from 34 institutions across 10 countries to produce a must-have review on future directions in conservation and research on petrels and shearwaters.

“We summarised the most important threats according to the IUCN Red List of threatened species. We identified six major global threats to this fragile group of seabirds: invasive species, overfishing, bycatch in the commercial fishery, light pollution, climate change and marine pollution” explains Dr Airam Rodriguez from the Biological Station of Doñana in Spain, one of the leading authors of this review.

The study looked at information gaps that must be filled to improve the conservation and management of petrels. The researchers found crucial knowledge gaps on basic information required for their conservation, such as the location of breeding or wintering areas, or their migratory routes.

“These seabirds are highly adapted marine animals as they are found across all the world’s oceans. But they must return to land to breed, usually on isolated and inaccessible islands. This isolation alone has not been enough to protect them from the global threats that are deteriorating the state of health of the seas” says Dr Andre Chiaradia, another leading author in this study from the Phillip Island Nature Parks, home to around 1.4 million short-tailed shearwaters.

The researchers believe that improving conservation status is possible if we can reverse some of the main six threats. “Some of these measures are the elimination, control and prevention of invasive species, restoration of breeding habitats, improvement of policies and regulations at the global and regional level, and the participation of local communities in conservation efforts such as seabird rescue campaigns” adds Dr Rodriguez.

The clear message that emerges from this review is the continued need for research and monitoring to inform and motivate effective conservation at the global level.

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