Marine Conservation

Making the seas safer for birds

Atlantic Puffin. Photo: Alex Berger/Audubon Photography Awards

Marine Conservation

Making the seas safer for birds

Seabird abundance has drastically declined by 70 percent in the last 60 years. From overfishing of prey, to climate change, and pollution, seabirds are threatened at every part of their life cycle.

Audubon’s marine conservation initiative, which is part of its Coasts strategic priority, works to restore seabird populations across the country.

We are working to reverse the seabird crisis by focusing on sustainable fisheries management, marine protected areas, and restoring nesting colonies. We are protecting seabird prey by defending the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), our nation’s only federal policy that protects fish in U.S. waters; while promoting policies that protect forage fish, the small fish that almost all seabirds prey on, including anchovies and sardines. Additionally, we are working to restore nesting colonies, and establish and defend marine protected areas to ensure safe spaces for seabirds to reproduce, grow, and forage.



Fisheries Management

Due to rapid seabird declines, there has never been a greater need for strong science in support of managing seabird prey, through defending and strengthening fisheries management policies and decisions. Audubon supports the core science-based provisions within the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the only law that manages U.S. ocean fish in federal waters, as well as necessary action to better-protect forage fish.

First passed in 1976, this law fosters the long-term sustainability of our nation's marine fisheries and is responsible for recovering 44 species of marine fish and ending chronic overfishing. Defending the MSA benefits fishermen, fishing communities, recreational and ecotourism industries, and seabirds and other wildlife that rely on healthy fish populations.

In addition to defending the core science-based policies that are working in the MSA, we aim to strengthen protections for forage fish. Forage fish are small schooling fish like anchovies and shad that serve at the base of the entire marine food web. These tiny but mighty organisms are a critical food source for birds, marine mammals, and recreationally and commercially caught fish.

Birds rely on forage fish for survival and studies have shown that when forage fish are fished below certain levels, seabirds thrive. We’re working to advance policies that take into account the dietary needs of seabirds and other marine wildlife when making decisions about how many fish can be taken out of the ocean.

Forage fish are currently threatened by overfishing, but are not well-protected and in some cases, unlimited amounts can be taken from the ocean. Most forage fish are not edible, they’re used to make fertilizer, livestock feed, and consumer products and demand is increasing worldwide. Much of the U.S. doesn’t have measures to avoid drastic declines in forage fish populations, which impacts the marine ecosystem and associated economies.

If you’d like to be a voice for seabirds, advocating for strong fisheries protections and forage fish policies, please go here!

Marine Protected Areas

We are working to establish marine protected areas at key locations throughout the Western Hemisphere, including in the U.S., Bahamas, and Chile. Marine protected areas are key to providing habitats for seabirds, fish, and other marine life that benefit coastal communities and economies. For example, the new Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which Audubon and others helped establish through advocacy and education encompasses crucial wintering grounds for Atlantic Puffins that nest in Maine. Its designation as a national monument limits fishing, drilling, and mining within this nearly 5,000-square-mile region. In addition, in the Bahamas, our scientific data was factored into the establishment of the 92,000-acre Joulter Cays Marine Protected Area, which is the wintering home for thousands of shorebirds, including 10% of the Atlantic population of Piping Plovers. Such protections uphold rich habitats that grow commercial fish populations, while providing a refuge for birds and other wildlife. In coalition with our partners, Audubon will advocate for continued and new protections for these marine protected areas.

Seabird Restoration Program

Over the last forty years, the Seabird Restoration Program has accumulated significant data on seabirds and their diets, restored seabird nesting colonies in Maine for approximately 42,000 seabirds and exported these techniques to seventeen countries, and inspired hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and internationally to support seabird conservation. Audubon’s network of seven actively managed seabird nesting islands and the Hog Island headquarters and educational facility are located in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine, one of the fastest-warming regions of the global ocean. This network serves as a living laboratory to study and teach about climate change impacts on seabirds and the fish and marine ecosystems on which they depend.