, July 29, 2009 (ENS) - The world's seabirds are disappearing more quickly than any other group of bird species, and they are harder to conserve than birds based on land, where habitat can more easily be set aside for their protection.
To conserve seabirds despite these issues, BirdLife International and some of its partner organizations have developed guidelines for identifying Marine Important Bird Areas for seabirds that can be applied anywhere around the world.
"We now have agreed guidelines which can be used to track seabirds and analyze the data to identify Marine IBAs for any seabird species," said Ben Lascelles, BirdLife's Global Marine IBA officer.
Roseate terns, Sterna dougallii, live on the Indian and North Atlantic Oceans. The Northeast U.S. breeding population was declared Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in December 1987. (Photo courtesy USGS)
"Our new guidelines can be used to follow seabirds and analyze the data to identify Marine IBAs, and represent a major step towards establishing a global network of representative Marine Protected Areas for seabirds," said Lascelles.
The world's oceans are under-protected, he said. Just 0.65 percent of the global ocean is within protected area systems, and most of that is within the first few miles offshore.
To safeguard the oceans, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Summit on Sustainable Development set a target to establish a globally representative network of Marine Protected Areas by 2012.
But the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, estimates that unless progress is accelerated, this goal will not be met until 2060 - half a century late.
Identifying and protecting Marine Important Bird Areas for seabirds will make a vital contribution towards the global Marine Protected Areas target, and is a key focus for BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme.
"Seabirds have deteriorated in IUCN Red List status faster than any other group of bird species" said Lascelles. "As well as continuing the implementation of bycatch mitigation measures, we urgently need to protect their habitats if we are to stop and reverse these rapid declines."
Seabird conservation presents some unique challenges, as many species spend the majority of their lives at sea.
To identify Marine IBAs, BirdLife has been refining methods developed for land and freshwater sites to ensure they work in the marine environment.
In order to achieve this, BirdLife organized a series of workshops which were attended by 50 seabird tracking experts from around the world. Workshop delegates compared the merits of different methods used to study the movements of seabirds, and tested the best ways of analyzing the datasets gained from such studies.
BirdLife Marine IBA workshops were held in Chize, France; Lisbon, Portugal; and Barcelona, Spain.
Funding and support for the workshops was supplied by Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, EU LIFE projects, the Wallace Research Foundation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
BirdLife and its partners are now working towards getting the outcomes of the workshops endorsed by the Convention on Biological Diversity at its upcoming September meeting in Ottawa, Canada.
This meeting will consider the criteria, and methods, for identification of biologically and ecologically significant areas on the high seas.
Lascelles said, "BirdLife's input will be to apply the new methods to some examples from the BirdLife Tracking Ocean Wanderers dataset which includes detailed information of the movements of 30 globally Threatened seabird species."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.
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