(April 10, 2023) - New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences demonstrates the effectiveness of restoring seabird populations around the world for the first time. The study is a global synthesis of all reported seabird translocation and social attraction restoration efforts, which spans nearly 70 years and over 850 efforts across 36 countries, targeting 138 seabird species–roughly one-third of all seabirds worldwide.
“Seabirds play key roles in coastal and island ecosystems, yet they are suffering massive declines across the planet,” said Dena Spatz, Ph.D., Senior Conservation Scientist at Pacific Rim Conservation and lead author of the paper. "That's why it's crucial that conservationists world-wide have shared knowledge on their restoration experiences, which can now help to restore seabirds in the most efficient way possible."
Seabirds are one of the most threatened bird groups on the planet with approximately 30 percent of species at enhanced risk of extinction, primarily due to threats from invasive predators at breeding sites, habitat loss, and harmful fishing practices. Climate change poses yet another challenge, as sea-level rise and increasing storms can flood low-lying seabird breeding habitat. These threats have prompted conservationists to relocate or restore nesting seabirds by physically translocating birds from one nesting site to another, or attracting them using seabird social cues to more secure breeding sites. Using social attraction methods like decoys and broadcasted bird sounds, conservationists can create the appearance of a thriving seabird colony at key locations, attracting new pairs of birds to safely nest together in large numbers.
“Fifty years ago Audubon first combined translocation and social attraction to successfully bring a healthy population of Atlantic Puffins back to Maine’s coast, so it was amazing to learn of more than 800 projects undertaken since then,” said coauthor Donald Lyons, Ph.D., Director of Conservation Science for Audubon’s Seabird Institute. “These projects are a powerful testament to the dedication of seabird practitioners around the globe, and Audubon is proud to have supported restoration training for many of these devoted conservationists.”
To understand which restoration methods have been most successful and guide future best-practices, Spatz and co-authors created the Seabird Restoration Database, an interactive catalog of efforts to help seabirds recover based on a review of over 1,400 resources and communications with over 300 experts. The authors analyzed the success of these seabird projects, finding the outcomes largely positive–within an average of 2 years from the project’s start, 80 percent of seabird projects resulted in birds visiting the site, and 76 percent achieved breeding.
The authors found that terns, gulls, and auks are among the seabird groups seeing the most success, as these groups are among the most commonly restored. The most highly threatened seabird group - petrels, shearwaters, and albatrosses - have also been common targets for active restoration, typically using social attraction or a combination of social attraction and translocation, both of which have also had high success rates.
“It’s a fantastic outcome for the conservation community to learn that seabird restoration techniques are becoming established and have high likelihoods of success,” said coauthor Nick Holmes, Ph.D., Associate Director for Oceans at The Nature Conservancy. “This is a call to action for more of these valuable restoration projects to be evaluated and implemented, especially where they can aid imperiled species at risk of extinction, and where the restored ecological role of seabirds can strengthen coastal and island resilience to climate change impacts.”
The Seabird Restoration Database partners include Pacific Rim Conservation, the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Northern Illinois University, New Zealand Department of Conservation, and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
For photos and more details on the international projects and partners involved in this study, download our press package.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.
Pacific Rim Conservation is a Hawaii-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We are a conservation organization whose primary focus is wildlife research and management, with a specialty in native birds. Our mission is to maintain and restore native bird diversity, populations, and ecosystems in Hawaii and the Pacific Region.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.
Rachel Guillory, National Audubon Society, firstname.lastname@example.org
Armin Mahramzadeh, The Nature Conservancy, email@example.com