Threats To Seabirds

Apr 04, 2021
Threats To Seabirds

Seabirds face threats on both land and out at sea, making them some of the most at risk species to rely on the ocean.

The Critically Endangered Seabirds

Balearic Shearwaters

IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered - Estimated less than 19,000 individuals ¹

Balearic Shearwaters are about 40 cm long and have a wingspan of 90 cm. They can be found breeding on the Balearic Islands from February to June and then during the winter months they spend their time out at sea. Tragically their population sees an annual decline of about 8% making them one of the rarest seabirds in the world. Their declining numbers can be attributed to coastal developments and invasive species.²

Tristan Albatross

IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered - Estimated around 3,400 - 4,800 individuals ³

Originally the Tristan Albatross was considered a subspecies of the Wandering Albatross but is now considered its own species. This bird is around 110 cm in length with a massive wingspan of 350 cm! They can be found in the South Atlantic Ocean and they will breeds on Gough Island, Their decline is largely due to hunting on the island during the 19th century as well as the invasive rodent species.

Chinese Crested Tern

IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered - Estimated at just 30 - 49 individuals 

The Chinese Crested Tern is one of most critically endangered species of seabird in the world. They are about 38 cm - 40 cm with a wingspan of 94 cm. For a period of time from the late 1930s to the 2000s this species seemed to disappear from Moguan Island and it was thought that they had gone extinct, however they were rediscovered on Mazu islands. The dramatic decrease in their population has been attributed to human activities, poaching eggs, environmental pollution and declining prey.

Townsend's Shearwater

IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered - Estimated that there are just 250 - 999 individuals 

These little birds are around 30 cm - 35 cm in length and have a wingspan of 83 cm. They can be spotted gliding close to the oceans surface in hunt of food off the Hawaiian Islands where they nest and breed. The greatest threat to Townsend's Shearwaters is predation from mongoose as well as pigs, cats and black rats.

Threats To Seabirds

Seabirds face threats from both land and the sea and some of these include:

Invasive Species

Seabirds like to nest and breed in isolated locations, such as islands and inlets, usually in large colonies. Normally there is a harmony at these locations however when a non-native species is introduced it can wreak havoc and heavily contributes to the decline in local species. Some of the most well known invasive species include cats, dogs, rats & pigs, all of whom have been known to go after adult seabirds or their eggs. But it's not just mammals that do damage, insects such as ants can do devastating damage or even invasive plant life can ruin nesting sites!¹⁰

Fishing Gear/ Bycatch

Did you know that each year between 160,000 and 320,000 seabirds are accidentally hooked and killed in longline fisheries?! Plus an estimated 400,000 seabirds are killed in gillnets. Seabirds can also get caught in the cables used for trawlers as they dive to catch their prey. A lot of work & research has gone into finding ways to reduce the number of seabird fatalities but there is still a way to go.¹¹

Coastal Development

Most seabirds nest and breed in rocky coastal area which leaves them susceptible to coastal developments and urbanisation. One example of this is the impact on South African Penguins as a booming tourism industry has seen coastal developments expand there is less and less room for the penguins to nest and breed. With the push towards renewable energies we are seeing the construction of more offshore wind farms, though there is some concern about the effects this will have on seabirds, as they are at risk of collision.¹²

Climate Change

One effect of climate change in the ocean is sea levels rising, this has a knock on impact to seabirds as it can flood their nesting areas, forcing them to find new sites or go further inland. It also accelerates coastal erosion which is damaging to these breeding and nesting sites.¹³

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1] IUCN Red List - Balearic Shearwater - August 7th 2018
2] Marine Conservation Society - Balearic Shearwater, Puffinus mauretanicus 
3] IUCN Red List - Tristan Albatross - August 7th 2018
4] Oiseaux Birds - Tristan Albatross by Nicole Bouglouan
5] IUCN Red List - Chinese Crested Tern - August 7th 2018
6] Birds of the World - Chinese Crested Tern, Thalasseus bernsteini - March 4th 2020
7] EAAFP - Restoration of the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern using social attraction technique - July 22nd 2020
8] IUCN Red List - Townsend's Shearwater - August 17th 2018
9] Encyclopedia - Newell's Townsend's Shearwater - April 2nd 2021
10] American Bird Conservation - Aliens Invade Seabirds' Island Strongholds - March 2nd 2018
11] BirdLife International - Towards Seabirds Safe Fisheries - 2017
12] British Ecological Society - Lack of sound science in assessing wind farm impacts on seabirds - June 25th 2016
13] BirdLife International - What is the impact of climate change on seabirds?

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