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Seabird Populations Under Threat: An Emergency In Slow Motion?

Seabird populations under threat: an emergency in slow motion?

In March, Sea Alarm brought fifteen leading seabird experts from eight countries together in Hamburg to discuss marine emergencies involving seabirds.

This was the second of three events in the European marine wildlife preparedness assessment programme (details of the first event can be found here), a project funded through Aramco’s citizenship programme.

The workshop participants (a mixture of seabird biologists, ecologists, rehabilitators, and animal welfare specialists) first identified the main threats to seabirds, including fisheries bycatch, infectious diseases and weather-driven events. They also discussed past oil spills where the seabird response was less than ideal due to lack of preparedness, leading to data collection opportunities being missed and animals suffering unnecessarily. During an emergency situation, it is crucial for scientists to make sure that robust data on both live and dead seabirds are gathered properly, which requires that protocols are in place and that scientists are well integrated into their national emergency response system prior to the emergency.

The group discussed ways to formalise and professionalise existing seabird science networks, both to provide scientific emergency response capability, and to investigate how emerging threats are impacting marine bird populations. This could include monitoring evolving effects from acute emergencies (such as an oil spill or disease outbreak), as well as emergencies happening in ‘slow motion’, such as the increasing effects of plastics ingestion on seabirds or impacts related to climate change.

Another important conclusion from the workshop was that there are serious gaps in baseline data on European seabird populations at-sea and limited beached bird surveys. Robust data are needed to highlight impacts of marine emergencies on seabird populations, flag up emerging threats and inform policy makers of the need to consider and protect seabirds. The group agreed that mechanisms to improve seabird data gathering at a European level are needed to improve the level of baseline data and to move towards internationally agreed protocols to facilitate sharing of data between countries.

The assessment project’s three workshops each focus on different groups of marine wildlife: turtles, birds and mammals. Recommendations from the workshops will be used to educate European governments and Regional Agreements active in oil spill preparedness of the need for emergency response for all types of marine emergency, and the development of associated funding and policy frameworks. We will continue to report on ongoing developments from the project via this newsletter.

The support of Aramco is gratefully acknowledged. Thanks are also due to Ian Robinson, Mike Ziccardi and Kees Camphuysen for their technical help, as well as Sascha Regmann (Project Blue Sea) for local organisation of the event.

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