Assessing the state of seabird communities in the North-East Atlantic



This year, JNCC has played a lead role in developing a mechanism for assessing the state of seabird communities in the North-East Atlantic.  The waters in this area are some of the most productive on the planet and sustain almost 100 million breeding seabirds.  Climate change and fishing are among the pressures operating in the area, the impacts of which can be monitored potentially by observing changes in seabird communities.


In March, JNCC in collaboration with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) organised the workshop to develop a Seabird Ecological Quality Indicator, which was hosted in Lisbon by Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), the BirdLife International Partner in Portugal. The workshop was chaired by JNCC’s Seabird Colony Team Leader, Ian Mitchell, and was attended by 23 delegates from 13 countries. It was requested by the OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic.  The aim was to bring together seabird monitoring data from countries bordering the North-East Atlantic and propose an Ecological Quality Objective (EcoQO) on seabird population trends as an index of seabird community health. ICES accepted the workshop’s  proposals and have recommended to the OSPAR Commission that they adopt an EcoQO on seabird population trends.  OSPAR’s suite of EcoQOs (there are 12 at present) are intended to help achieve their goal of managing “human activities in such a way that the marine ecosystem will continue to sustain the legitimate uses of the sea and will continue to meet the needs of present and future generations”.


The workshop and ICES recommended the following EcoQO:  Changes in breeding seabird abundance should be within target levels for 75% of species monitored in any of the OSPAR regions or their sub-divisions.  If adopted, an assessment will be made annually to determine if the EcoQO has been achieved; if it has not, appropriate action (i.e. further research or management) will be triggered.  The assessment will be based on indicators for each of the five OSPAR regions that consist of species-specific trends in breeding population size.  Data collected by the UK’s JNCC-led Seabird Monitoring Programme will contribute to the indicators for OSPAR’s Celtic Seas and Greater North Sea regions.


It remains to be seen if OSPAR decide to follow ICES advice and adopt the EcoQO on seabird population trends.  In any case, the workshop has achieved a way of collating data on seabird populations from across international borders that will enable OSPAR to assess the impacts of humans on seabirds at a more biologically meaningful scale. 

Ian Mitchell
Seabird Colony Team Leader
Tel: +44 (0) 1224 655717

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