2024 World Seabird Day

Wednesday, 3 July 2024

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2024 World Seabird Day

Today we are celebrating World Seabird Day, a date that marks the last known sighting of the now-extinct Great Auk on 3 July 1844. Despite having once occurred in their millions on islands across the North Atlantic, this large, flightless seabird was wiped out by excessive hunting by people. World Seabird Day is an opportunity to reflect on the continuing conservation threats to seabird populations worldwide. 

An artise depiction of Greak Alk, a black and white seabird
Artwork of the Great Auk by John James Audubon, 1800s

Seabirds are one of the world’s most threatened groups of birds, with over half of all species experiencing population declines. The main threats they experience are predation by introduced animals at their breeding sites, bycatch in fisheries, and climate change, as well as overfishing, hunting and disturbance. 

Seabirds spend most of their lives at sea, making them a great indicator of the health of the marine environment. They play an important role as top predators in marine ecosystems and are essential for transferring marine-derived nutrients to islands (through their guano and other material, such as eggs and feathers).  

So, what is BirdLife Australia doing to promote seabird conservation?   

Woman holding a seabird chick for research
BirdLife Australia’s Seabird Project Coordinator, Emily Mowat with a Gould’s Petrel chick extracted from its nest for weighing and banding. Barunguba-Montague Island, NSW taken by Julie Dutoit

Our seabird work focuses on several key areas: research, monitoring, advocacy and engagement.” said Emily Mowat, our Seabird Project Coordinator. 

Our current research focus, through our special interest group, the Australasian Seabird Group, is tracking endangered Gould’s Petrels from their two main breeding colonies to investigate their habitat use at sea. We are also comparing their breeding success, adult body condition, dietary composition and nest visitation rates between the two sites, to see if we can identify factors that might explain why one population has been in decline while the other is increasing.” 

Monitoring is another a key part of BirdLife Australia’s seabird work; high-quality data is essential for determining population trends, evaluating impacts of threats, and measuring responses to management actions.  

We are working with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Queensland University of Technology and Monash University to find technological solutions to improve our ability to monitor seabird populations across the Great Barrier Reef. 

This includes using acoustic recorders and drones to monitor Brown Boobies, Crested Terns and Bridled Terns, and developing automated seabird call recognisers and photo recognition software.

Seabird flying in the air, brown and white
Brown Booby by Andrew Silcocks

BirdLife Australia’s advocacy for seabirds includes campaigning for better protection of at-sea foraging habitat through expanded marine protected areas, conservation of important breeding habitats and addressing large-scale threats such as the impacts of fisheries.  

Some of our successes have included campaigning against expansion of phosphate mining on Christmas Island, which would have destroyed breeding habitat for the Endangered Abbott’s Booby and Christmas Island Frigatebird, and advocating for the expansion of the Marine Protected Area around subantarctic Macquarie Island, which contains important foraging habitat for many species of breeding seabirds”. 

Two people standing on grass on an island doing research
Setting up acoustic recorders for Brown Booby monitoring on East Fairfax Island, Great Barrier Reef Qld. Photo by Andrew McDougall

We also aim to engage land managers and the wider community with seabirds, and implement on ground conservation actions.  

BirdLife Australia’s Beach-nesting Birds team does fantastic work in engaging volunteers and Indigenous ranger groups to help monitor and protect nests of Little Terns and Vulnerable Fairy Terns. This helps ensure that these species can nest safely despite the many threats they are facing on our coastlines.