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article imageWorld's seabird populations have declined 70 percent

By Karen Graham     Sep 23, 2015 in Environment
Seabirds are remarkable creatures, soaring high above the ocean's surface in all kinds of weather, flying hundreds of miles without rest. They have been doing this for 60 million years, and now, in the short span of 60 years, they are disappearing.
There are at least 350 species of seabirds in the world today. Some of them are daring navigators, like the albatross, ranging far from land in search for food. Others, like the Emperor penguin, are the only birds to breed during the harsh winters of Antarctica.
Shorebirds or ocean-going navigators, seabirds all have one thing in common. They depend on the oceans of the world for sustenance. Seabirds are also a great indicator of the health of the whole marine ecosystem, not only the open ocean, but the shoreline as well.
Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) in flight  East of the Tasman Peninsula  Tasmania  Australia....
Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) in flight, East of the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia. Albatrosses range over huge areas of ocean and regularly circle the globe.
J. J. Harrison (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Conservationists have known for a long time about the decline in seabird populations, says the Guardian. But a new study in PLOS One suggests that overfishing and pollution have led to a 69.9 percent decline in populations, far worse than previously thought.
Lead author, Michelle Paleczny with the University of British Columbia and the Sea Around Us Project, says, “Seabirds are particularly good indicators of the health of marine ecosystems. When we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we can see there is something wrong with marine ecosystems. It gives us an idea of the overall impact we’re having.”
The study determined there were a number of factors that have led to the decline, including overfishing of the fish seabirds feed on, entanglement in fishing nets and lines, oil and plastics pollution, predators feeding on their eggs, and destruction and changes to their habitat. Environmental and ecological changes due to climate change are also factors.
Seabird populations have been well-documented. The researchers used accumulated data (1950- 2010) to compile information on more than 500 seabird populations around the world, representing 19 percent of the global seabird population. The biggest drops in seabird populations were seen in the Southern Hemisphere, which includes Australia, Antarctica, most of South America and a third of Africa.
The only penguin species that breeds during the Antarctic winter  emperor penguins trek 50–120 km ...
The only penguin species that breeds during the Antarctic winter, emperor penguins trek 50–120 km (31–75 mi) over the ice to breeding colonies which may include thousands of individuals.
Michael Van Woert, NOAA NESDIS, ORA
One of the hardest hit families the Sternidea, which includes terns, saw a decline of 85.8 percent. The Frigatidae, a family that includes frigatebirds, saw declines of 81.7 percent. The Phalacrocoracida, which include cormorants and shags, declined 73.6 percent, according to CBS News.
The research also showed some populations actually increased, a sign that conservation efforts are working in some places. There have been successful efforts to rid some Pacific islands of rats, cats and other invasive species, and in another successful project, the conservation group, Birdlife, worked with fishermen in South Africa to reduce bycatch by 99 percent.
There are solutions to many of the threats. The study suggests: “Increased efforts should be made to rid seabird colonies of invasive species, reduce bycatch in fisheries or the ensnaring of birds in fishnets, and setting up conservation areas.”
Almost 90 percent of the world s seabirds have plastics in their intestines.
Almost 90 percent of the world's seabirds have plastics in their intestines.
Chris Jordan/Greenpeace
The biggest problem is, of course, plastics in the ocean. A study released last month stated that 90 percent of the world's seabirds have plastic in their intestines. “I have seen everything from cigarette bottle caps to model cars. I’ve found toys [inside seabird guts],” co-author Denise Hardesty, with CSIRO, told the Associated Press, and as reported by the Guardian.
The study, "Population Trend of the World’s Monitored Seabirds, 1950-2010," was published in the journal PLOS One on June 9, 2015.
More about seabird population, 70 percent decline, barometer of ocean life, 350 species, 60 million years
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