BirdLife International has just released a marine conservation e-atlas outlining areas of the world’s oceans that are of particular import to seabird conservation. Such a project is overwhelming in scope, as individual seabirds can range over thousands of miles in a single season, and entire species or species groups are even more far flung. So pinpointing which areas of the oceans and which phases of the birds’ long travels are most critical to their survival is daunting to say the least. BirdLife has been at work on this project for 6 years and has brought together countless collaborators. The result is a publicly available atlas of over 3,000 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). The criteria for designating an IBA emphasized its use by threatened or endangered species, and large concentrations of individual birds during at least one phase of their lives. Breeding colonies and the foraging waters around them rank high on the list, as do dense congregations of wintering birds, or migration “bottlenecks” concentrating large numbers of birds into a narrow geographic area.
As you SEANET readers explore the atlas, you may be surprised to find that no IBAs are confirmed or proposed along the U.S. east coast from Maine to Florida (though Bermuda is one). While our initial reaction to that may be to ask why no one is protecting “our” birds, the atlas really serves to drive home just how truly global “our” seabirds are. The gannets our Cape Cod walkers see spent the summer on the islands off the Canadian maritimes. The Greater Shearwaters that range up along the Carolinas and into the New England coast in June and July came up from tiny islands midway between the tip of South America and the tip of Africa. This is the very reason why we need international groups like BirdLife. More than any other animals, seabirds cross and recross international borders easily from day to day and sometimes hour to hour. In order to truly protect these species, we have to take an international approach and collaborate in defending these birds during all the phases of their remarkable lives. SEANET applauds BirdLife for the immense and ambitious project, and we think you will enjoy the virtual tour of seabird hotspots that this e-atlas affords.