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Amsterdam Albatross, which only breeds on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean, is just one of the world's many critically endangered seabirds. Photo: Vincent Legendre (
Amsterdam Albatross, which only breeds on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean, is just one of the world's many critically endangered seabirds. Photo: Vincent Legendre ( image

Sharp decline in world's seabirds

Posted on: 09 Mar 2012

Seabirds are now the most threatened group of birds in the world, BirdLife research has revealed.

The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades and several species and many populations are now perilously close to extinction. These are the findings of a major new review published this week in the scientific journal Bird Conservation International.

The review - based on BirdLife International’s data and assessment for the IUCN Red List - reveals that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds. Of the 346 seabird species, 97 (28 per cent) are globally threatened and a further 10 per cent are close to that status. Nearly half of all seabird species are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. The albatross family is particularly imperilled, with 17 of the 22 species currently threatened with extinction.

“Seabirds are a diverse group of worldwide distribution and as top predators they also provide a valuable indicator of wider marine health”, said Professor John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme, and the paper’s lead author.

Human activities lie behind these declines. At sea, commercial fisheries have degraded fish stocks and caused the deaths of innumerable seabirds through accidental bycatch, while on land the introduction of invasive species like mice and rats - and even Reindeer on South Georgia - has extirpated many breeding colonies.

There may still be time to reverse these declines and the review is clear on the actions that need to be taken. The sites where seabird congregate both onshore breeding colonies and offshore feeding grounds must be protected. BirdLife has already identified many Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for seabirds on land and is about to publish the first inventory of marine IBAs in the oceans. It is hoped that these will help grow into a global network of Marine Protected Areas.

Invasive species, especially introduced rodents, must be removed from major seabird colonies. Several successful restoration projects have already taken place and BirdLife is currently collaborating with Island Conservation and the University of California, Santa Cruz to compile a list of priority sites for future eradication operations. There is also a need for more research to fill existing knowledge gaps and address emerging threats such as aquaculture, energy generation operations and climate change.

For more information on the status of the world’s seabirds and the efforts being taken by the BirdLife partnership to save them please visit the new State of the World’s Birds Spotlight on Seabirds.

Croxall, J P, Butchart S H M, Lascelles, B, Stattersfield A J, Sullivan B, Symes, A and Taylor, P. 2012. Seabird conservation status, threats and priority actions: a global assessment. Bird Conservation International 22: 1-34
; the paper can be accessed for free here.

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