Seabirds are key indicators of marine ecosystem health. However, seabird populations are declining faster than any other comparable group of birds, with monitored populations declining by ~70% since 1950. Human activities are thought to be the main cause of these declines, with invasive species and industrial fishing being the primary drivers.
Pelagic Marine Protected Areas (PMPAs) have been proposed as one important component of seabird conservation. While they do have great potential, their efficacy depends on whether they encompass sufficient area and appropriate habitats to successfully protect seabrids during breeding and migration. In the Western Indian Ocean, BIOT encompasses the regions largest MPA offering protection of the pelagic ecosystem and providing an unrivalled opportunity for the conservation of seabird populations in the WIO and globally.
To date, information on the use of this MPA by breeding and migratory seabirds is extremely limited and provides no indication of its efficacy as a conservation tool. Therefore, by unravelling not only where these sentinel species go, but also why, will reveal key information on marine mega-fauna activity ‘hot-spots’ and the health of the marine ecosystem on which many species rely.
Technology can give us the most amazing insights into the natural world and being able to document where seabirds go and how they use the open ocean is not only fascinating, but instrumental in their conservation.
Sentinel Species ResearchThe Importance of the British Indian Ocean Territory for Seabirds
Seabirds are facing threats both at sea and on land, mainly at their breeding colonies. Although extremely challenging, as they spend large periods of their life away from breeding colonies in the open ocean, identifying these threats is key to ensuring a long-term viability of seabird populations. Elsewhere in the tropical Indian Ocean my research uses tracking technology to document how a range of seabird species utilise different parts of the Indian Ocean, the threats they might face in these areas and how these then drive changes in their breeding populations.
The findings from this research are being used to develop conservation actions both locally, at breeding colonies and regionally through the identification of priority at-sea areas for protection.