As the food security of seabirds is threatened by human activity, new research in Ireland has found birds with tracking devices following fishing boats for food.
Human activity threatens seabird populations. Research from University College Cork suggests that studying fishing boat routes could help better coastal planning and ultimately protect endangered seabirds.
Ireland has a vast marine territory, attracting fishing boats from overseas. With these fishing grounds so productive, wind farms will soon become a staple along the coasts, in line with Ireland’s commitment to renewable energy.
Nonetheless, Ireland is home to 24 species of seabirds, so proper planning of these power generators is essential for the protection of seabirds along the islands and cliffs of Ireland.
Implications for offshore developments
An international team, led by the Marine Ecology Group of MaREI, the SFI Research Center for Energy, Climate and the Marine Environment hosted by UCC, focused on a seabird related to the albatross, the northern fulmar. Northern fulmars are an endangered species in Europe, often accidentally captured by ships, their population is in decline.
Because fulmars can live for up to 50 years, the smallest threat could have big implications for their population.
By equipping fulmars with the latest tracking technology, the birds traveled hundreds of miles in a few days for a meal before returning home. Their findings revealed that up to half of the fulmars followed fishing boats to feed on fishing litter thrown overboard.
The team found that fishing vessels can help determine where birds go to feed, by examining the distribution of fulmars in Irish and British waters, they discovered that the areas of the sea the fishing vessels passed through the most times were also those where the fulmars went. to feed.
By understanding their foraging areas, researchers can organize better protection for them from the dangers they may face at sea. This study highlights the need for better practices when fishing, including scaring lines birds when setting up nets or monitoring longlines.
Most of the world’s seabird populations are already threatened
Lead author Jamie Darby from MaREI at UCC said: “Information on where seabirds go to sea is vital to ensuring that new offshore developments, including wind farms, can be designed to cause the least damage. This is why studies like this are so important.
“Humans have given seabirds a lot to contend with. They are sensitive to oil and plastic pollution; we accidentally catch them in commercial fishing gear; we have brought rats and other invasive species to many of their breeding colonies over the past few centuries.