Hugh Harris: Global seabird conservation: hoisting the mast for hope on a stormy sea

On Monday 3 September 2018 at the Chadwick Lecture Theatre, University of Liverpool, Cleo Small, Head of the BirdLife International Marine Programme was the opening speaker of the three-day 14th International Seabird Group Conference.

Her presentation showcased the work of the BirdLife International Marine Programme which includes the Albatross Task Force, the European Seabird Task Force, a programme of work to find solutions to bycatch in gillnet fisheries, work to identify and protect the world’s marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and, on behalf of scientists worldwide, coordination of the Seabird Tracking Database. Cleo’s passion is searching for solutions to reduce human impact on the environment, with a background at Cambridge University and Yale University, where she studied Natural Science in combination with Social and Political Science.

The gist of her talk was that most seabird populations and species are declining, many to globally threatened levels. At sea, commercial fisheries and pollution are taking their toll; on land, alien invasive predators and habitat disturbance and destruction are impacting many colonies. Climate change may cause (or exacerbate) problems in both domains. However, the last two decades have also seen notable successes in eradicating alien predators (mainly on uninhabited islands) and in finding solutions to seabird bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries. She presented the view from BirdLife International on whether we have reasons to be optimistic for the future of the world’s seabirds, by reviewing some current and prospective global initiatives, including the development of new research and monitoring techniques, as well as pioneering collaborations involving governments, non-governmental organisations, scientists and civil society. 

The world seabirds most under threat in her focus are; Albatross, Penguins and Petrels in South Georgia, South Africa and Namibia. The next steps are thought to be more progress in research to find solutions that reduce the environmental impact on seabird populations, more biological recording input to IUCN Red Lists and co-ordination of Tracking Databases.  Collaboration between scientists, conservationists and campaigners is vital if changes are to be made to the future prospects of the world’s seabirds.

Acknowledgements: Non-delegates and members of the public were invited to attend the talk and reception for free due to generous support from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Liverpool.