3,000 Dead Sooty Shearwater in Chile is Far from Normal

Audubon Americas Chile joins 15 organizations in the urgent call to review current fisheries legislation.

The image is bleak: dark-colored birds lie on the sand one after another. It is a trail of death that becomes more visible as the waves recede from the beach. They have been counted by the thousands, with at least 3,000 Sooty Shearwaters (Ardenna grisea) dead on the coast between the area of Llico and Tirúa (Maule Region, Chile).

Who can be indifferent to the death of so many birds? Not us. The recent death of 3,000 seabirds in Chile does not leave us unconcerned. Audubon's mission is to protect birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas. Events such as the one that occurred last April 19 in the central Chilean region of Maule are an urgent wake-up call: #BirdsTellUs that we must act now. 

Audubon Americas in Chile, as a member of the Core Group for the development of the National Bird Conservation Plan 2021-2030 (NBCP), signed a public statement that warns about the event's seriousness. And along with more than 15 experts and representatives of organizations that are also part of NBCP's Core Group, we expressed our concern and called to take action in the short and medium-term to prevent this situation from repeating over time. 

With its nearly 6,500 km of coastline, Chile plays a fundamental role worldwide in conserving seabirds: it is home to some of the most endangered seabirds in the world, with nearly 40 species. "Seabird populations have declined by 70%, so losses of this magnitude are important for the population status of these threatened birds," said Veronica López, Project Manager at Oikonos NGO in Chile and president of the national seabird working group that advises the Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture, SUBPESCA. 

"In Chile, our work has been focused on migratory shorebird conservation. But our commitment is to support the country's efforts to strengthen public policies that benefit the birds and their habitats and ensure the provision of ecosystem services that bring benefits to people and local communities," explained Javiera Ferreyra, director of Audubon Americas in Chile. "That is why, as one of the organizations that have actively participated in the development of the NBCP, we call on the authorities to take timely action and to review current legislation. And of course, as an organization, we want to support that work. The NBCP has already identified bycatch as one of the direct threats to seabirds. We hope that this strategy can provide the framework for action to avoid this type of situation."

Diego Luna, Policy and Governance expert in WHSRN/Manomet and a member of this Core Group, emphasized that "the death of at least 3,000 individuals of Shearwaters in a single event lights an alarm that we must urgently address. NBCP has to propose specific regulations, articulating the institutions with competence to strengthen preventive actions and timely control and promoting good fishing practices."  

Gonzalo González, president of the Union of Ornithologists of Chile (UNORCH - AvesChile) and member of the Core Group, said that "one of the main causes is the spatial and temporal overlap between the fishing areas and the feeding areas of many bird species. It happens in a large part of Chile's coast, which generates a high probability of interactions between fishing gear and seabirds. That, in turn, increases the probability of incidental death of individuals." 

Hence, both Verónica López and Gonzalo González agree that working with the fishing sector is a must. González stresses the importance of implementing technical and practical measures to make sustainable industrial fishing compatible with the safe existence of seabirds. López recalls that any real solution has to consider the social aspect: it is necessary to work with fishers who have normalized the mortality of birds. For this purpose, collaborative work of awareness is necessary for Chile to stop anglers from seeing birds washed ashore just as business as usual.