As seabirds’ food security is threatened by human activity, new research in Ireland has found that birds with tracking devices have been follow fishing vessels for food
Human activity is threatening seabird populations. Research from the University College Cork suggests that studying fishing boats’ routes could assist better coastal planning and ultimately protect threatened seabirds.
Ireland has a large marine territory, attracting fishing vessels from overseas. With these fishing grounds being so productive, windfarms will soon be a common fixture along the coasts in accordance with Ireland’s commitment to renewable energy.
Nonetheless, Ireland is home to 24 species of seabird, and so proper planning of these energy generators is essential for the protection of the seabirds along Ireland’s islands and cliffs.
Implications for offshore developments
An international team, led by the Marine Ecology Group at MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine hosted by UCC, focused on a seabird related to the albatross, the Northern fulmar. Northern fulmars are an endangered species in Europe, often accidentally caught by vessels, they are declining in population.
Because fulmars can live to 50 years old, the smallest threat could have big implications for their population.
Equipping the fulmars with the latest tracking technology, the birds were shown to travel hundreds of kilometres in a matter of days for a meal before returning home.Their findings revealed that up to half of the fulmars were following fishing vessels for food in the form of fishing waste thrown overboard.
The team found that fishing vessels can help figure out where the birds go to feed, looking at the distribution of fulmars around Irish and UK waters, they found that areas of the sea that fishing vessels spent the most time in were also where fulmars went to feed.
By understanding their feeding grounds, researchers can arrange better protection for them from the hazards they may face at sea. This study highlights the need for best practice when fishing, including bird scaring lines when setting nets or trailing longlines.
Most of the world’s seabird populations are already threatened
Lead author Jamie Darby of MaREI at UCC said: “Information about where seabirds go at sea is vital for making sure that new offshore developments, including windfarms, can be designed to do the least amount of harm. That’s why studies such as this one are so important.
“Humans have given seabirds a lot to contend with. They are sensitive to oil and plastic pollution; we accidentally catch them in commercial fishing gears; we’ve brought rats and other invasive species onto many of their breeding colonies over the last few centuries.”
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