Saving the world's seabirds
Seabirds are one of the world’s most threatened groups of vertebrates. Today, almost half of these incredible species have declining populations, and one in three species is globally threatened with extinction. Steep declines have been identified almost everywhere, from albatrosses in the Southern Ocean to puffins in the North Atlantic. Even once-abundant species, including some penguins, are now threatened with extinction. So what’s going on?
Albatrosses, gadfly petrels and penguins are the groups most at risk, with more than 50% of species identified as globally threatened on the IUCN Red List. From Dias et al. (2019), Biological ConservationTop threats to seabirds
Our research shows that the world’s seabirds are facing multiple dangers both on land and out to sea. Invasive species such as cats and rats impact nearly half of all seabird species, often predating on eggs and chicks at breeding colonies. Accidental capture (bycatch) in fisheries is a pervasive risk for seabirds out foraging at sea, while climate change is causing changes in food supply and extreme weather events that imperil colonies further.
Other threats include hunting and human disturbance at colonies. Overfishing of seabirds’ prey impacts fewer species, but has a more dramatic effect on those that are affected.
Worryingly, many common seabird species are exposed to the same dangers as threatened ones. In other words, if we don’t act now, we will soon see many other species heading in the same direction. Formerly well-known and widespread species such as the Atlantic Puffin and Black-legged Kittiwake have recently been added to the list of birds facing extinction. Altogether, more than 380 million birds (around 45% of all seabirds) are exposed to at least one of the top 3 threats – invasive species, bycatch, and climate change.
Top threats to seabird species globally. Numbers in bars show the number of species affected. From Dias et al. (2019), Biological Conservation
Recognising the multiple threats affecting seabirds, BirdLife International established its Marine Programme in 1997, working with BirdLife Partner organisations around the world and in the high seas to advocate for seabirds and their habitats. We use our strong scientific research and new technologies to identify solutions: how and where to act to save seabirds from extinction.
Our Marine Programme is already working with fisheries across the world to prevent bycatch of seabirds and other marine animals. Eradication of invasive species from islands has a pivotal role to play for many species, and thanks to advances in knowledge and technology, conservationists are now able to restore more – and bigger – islands than ever before. BirdLife also works with our Partners around the world to research and advocate for sustainable use of the ocean’s resources.
While climate change is arguably the most difficult to address, it usually acts in combination with other top threats. By solving these pressures, we are giving seabirds greater resilience to face the challenges of a changing ocean.