Besides studying marine mammals and turtles, Archipelagos’ marine mammal team also collects data on the seabirds spotted during boat surveys. The number of individuals, species, and location of encountered seabirds is recorded by dedicated observers. In 2021 only, our team has already recorded more than 3000 sightings! The most common species include the Mediterranean shearwater, Cory’s and Scopoli’s shearwaters, yellow-legged Gulls (as shown feeding below), Audouin’s gulls, great cormorants and Mediterranean shags.
Unfortunately, seabirds in the Mediterranean are exposed to a multitude of anthropogenic threats. Increasing amounts of marine litter put seabirds at risk of ingestion of plastic debris. Worrying numbers of seabirds have been found with plastics in their digestive tracts, which can seriously harm or kill them. Plastic, as well as chemical pollution, also results in habitat degradation. Combined with the disturbance of marine traffic in many areas, less habitat remains available for seabirds in the Mediterranean. Moreover, overfishing reduces the amount of prey available to these species, making it more difficult for them to forage, while fishing lines pose a threat for entanglement.
Seabirds won’t be fighting these threats alone though. The team at Archipelagos are conducting research to fill the knowledge gap regarding Mediterranean seabird populations and their threats. For example, we are assessing associations between marine mammals and seabirds, as well as the influence of marine litter on seabird distributions and behaviour. In the long term, we aim to protect these species and help them to thrive along with the marine mammals we also research.
By Rob Hyman, MSc. Biology at the University of York, U.K.