Mar 9

The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades, with many populations now dangerously close to extinction, according to a new review by BirdLife International, a partner of the IUCN.

Photo of Balearic shearwater in flight

The Balearic shearwater, one of the rarest seabirds in the world

The review also reveals that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds, with 28% of the 346 species being globally threatened and a further 10% listed as Near Threatened.

Almost half of all seabird species are believed to be in decline. The albatross family is particularly at risk, with 17 of the 22 albatross species currently facing extinction.

This new data details the rapid deterioration of creatures that provide a crucial window onto the condition of the oceans,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of the IUCN Global Species Programme. “We must now use this information to enact changes that will reverse the loss of such an important group of species.”

Man-made threats

The most significant threat to the world’s seabirds is commercial fishing, which is reducing the fish stocks on which many species depend. In addition, thousands of seabirds are killed every year after becoming caught in fishing gear.

Photo of wandering albatross hooked and drowned by long-line fishing

Wandering albatross caught and drowned by long-line fishing gear

Seabird breeding colonies have also been decimated by invasive, introduced species such as rats and cats, which pose a particular threat to seabirds that breed on only a few small islands.

Further threats to seabirds come from oil spills, plastic waste in the oceans, and the potential effects of climate change.

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

Photo of puffin mistaking plastic for food to provide to chick

Puffin mistaking plastic for food to give to its chick

Call for action

There may still be time to reverse seabird declines, and the review is clear on the actions that need to be taken.

In particular, sites where seabirds congregate, such as onshore breeding colonies and offshore feeding grounds, need to be protected. To this end, BirdLife International has already identified many ‘Important Bird Areas’ (IBAs) for seabirds on land, and is planning to publish the first list of marine IBAs. These areas will then be used to develop a global network of Marine Protected Areas, to help manage and protect marine habitats.

Photo of Henderson petrel on the nest

Breeding on just one small island, the Henderson petrel has declined due to predation by introduced rats

Invasive species, particularly rodents, also need to be removed from seabird colonies. Several successful eradication programmes have already taken place, and more are planned.

Finally, more research is needed to fill in gaps in our knowledge of seabird populations and to tackle new, emerging threats to seabirds, such as energy generation projects and the effects of climate change.

Read more on the seabird review at the IUCN.

Find out more about BirdLife International’s Global Seabird Programme.

View photos and videos of albatross, petrel and shearwater species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Mar 1

IUCN have proposed a new method of fishing called ‘balanced harvesting’, where all edible components of the marine ecosystem are targeted in proportion to their productivity.

Atlantic cod image

The Atlantic cod - a commonly fished species

Balanced harvesting

The study by IUCN, to be published in the journal Science, suggests a fundamental change in the way fisheries are managed. By targeting a higher diversity of species and sizes rather than selectively fishing certain species, it is hoped that full use can be made of the productivity of the marine ecosystem. The suggested changes will improve food security for people while reducing the impact that fishing has on the marine ecosystem.

For centuries, it has been believed that selective fishing that avoids young, rare and charismatic species and focuses on older and larger individuals, is key to increased harvest and reduced impacts on the environment,” says François Simard, IUCN’s Senior Adviser for Fisheries. “But old individuals largely contribute to reproduction and removing them distorts the environment’s structure and functioning. It can also have serious ecological and evolutionary side effects.”

Yellowfin tuna image

The yellowfin tuna is a popular and important target for commercial fisheries

Selective fishing

Conventional selective fishing methods currently result in certain species and certain sizes of fish being removed from the ecosystem disproportionately to the numbers they occur in. In some areas, such as the North Sea, selective fishing has led to a shift from large to smaller species, thus altering the ecosystem. Balanced harvesting will address this issue by targeting all edible components of the marine environment in proportion to their productivity.

Balanced harvesting is a selective approach to fishing, but this selectivity has a much broader perspective than what has been used until now,” says Serge M. Garcia, Chair of the Fisheries Expert Group of IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM). “Instead of focusing solely on optimizing the catch taken from selected target species and sizes, it aims at maintaining the structure and productivity of the ecosystem as a whole.”

Bigeye tuna image

Bigeye tuna at Tsukiji fish market

A more sustainable approach for the future

Examples of fishing methods that resemble a balanced harvesting method already exist in some countries, where a wide range of fishing methods and net mesh sizes leads to a broad distribution of fishing pressure across the ecosystem. This not only results in a high yield for people, but also maintains the ecosystem structure.

Jeppe Kolding, member of the Fisheries Expert Group, says “We now have sufficient evidence that this new approach could make fishing much more sustainable, reducing its impact on the ecosystem and benefitting the marine environment and food security.

For more information on balanced harvesting, read the report by IUCN: Selective Fishing and Balanced Harvest in Relation to Fisheries and Ecosystem Sustainability.

View images and videos of fish species on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 23

Experts from around the world are gathering for a six-day conference that will set the agenda for global species conservation for the next four years.

Dugong image

A dugong - one of the spectacular creatures to be found in the UAE

IUCN SSC Chairs meeting

This IUCN SSC (Species Survival Commission) Chairs meeting will involve members of more than 100 SSC groups. These SSC groups focus on the conservation issues faced by a fascinating array of plants and animals, from slime moulds to dragonflies and antelopes. Some groups also specialise in addressing specific issues, such as the reintroduction of species back into the wild.

These specialists are world experts on almost every conceivable creature or plant on the planet. Abu Dhabi is hosting this conference out of a deep and historical commitment to protecting biodiversity on a national, regional, and global scale,” said H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD).

This meeting will set the global species conservation agenda for the next four years and EAD is proud to support it.”

Arabian oryx image

The Arabian oryx is a major success story for conservation in the UAE

Conservation in the United Arab Emirates

The conference will feature conservation programmes from the United Arab Emirates (UEA) in the opening ceremony, and will highlight the UAE’s continued commitment to conservation. The Arabian oryx is one such conservation success story, having being reintroduced to the wild after being almost hunted to extinction.

We are continually impressed with Abu Dhabi’s strong support of species conservation both locally and internationally,” said Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN SSC.

Abu Dhabi has been instrumental in regional efforts to bring the Arabian oryx back from the brink of extinction. Its efforts with locally threatened species such as the dugong, houbara bustard, and hawksbill turtles are also very impressive. Perhaps more important is Abu Dhabi’s established long-term commitment to global species conservation.”

Houbara bustard image

The houbara bustard is currently being conserved in the UAE

Although the Species Survival Commission was formed 60 years ago, this will only be the second time in its history that the chairs of the various groups have met. This meeting of world experts will provide a platform from which to advance global species conservation and achieve the SSC vision of ‘A world that values and conserves present levels of biodiversity’.

Find out more about the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

Visit the spectacular Jewels of the UAE pages on ARKive to discover more about the wildlife of the United Arab Emirates.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

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