Marine IBA e-Atlas FAQs

Why identify marine IBAs?
IBAs have proved to be a very effective means of setting site-based conservation priorities in the terrestrial environment for over 30 years. They provide guidance for where targeted funding and action are likely to achieve the greatest conservation gains. While techniques for defining sites may differ in the marine environment, their application to site-based conservation approaches remains the same, and many sites are already influencing marine conservation initiatives.

What are the IBA criteria?
The IBA criteria are the standardised, data-driven means by which sites are assessed for their contribution to bird and biodiversity conservation. Sites qualify when one or more IBA criteria have been shown to be met for one or more species. Marine IBAs are primarily defined for the regular presence of globally threatened species, and congregations of >1% of biogeographic or global population. Population estimates are based on assessments made during the IUCN Red List assessments, and taken from a range of sources. See
here for further information.

Are marine IBA criteria different from those used for other IBAs?
There are no differences in the IBA criteria used in terrestrial and marine environments. All that differs is the habitat, the data used to describe the sites and the methods for defining boundaries.

What is the difference between “confirmed”, “proposed” and “candidate” sites?
Confirmed IBAs are those that have been through the complete IBA quality-control process, i.e. have had a full assessment made of qualifying species and populations, as well as a site description and associated boundary, which have been reviewed and approved by both BirdLife Partners and the BirdLife Secretariat. Proposed sites are those that have not yet gone through this complete cycle, but are shown here to indicate the number and range of sites that are in the process of being identified and reviewed. Candidate sites are those that have been identified during global level analysis as potentially meeting IBA criteria, though further work is needed to build the case for these sites. Boundaries and qualifying species for proposed and potential sites should be regarded as preliminary and may change during the process of assessment.

Why are some marine IBAs very large and others small?
There is no set maximum or minimum size for an IBA—what is biologically sensible has to be balanced against practical considerations of how best the site may be conserved, which is the main priority.  Common sense needs to be used in all cases: what is most likely to be effective in conserving the site under prevailing conditions and circumstances, locally and nationally? The identification and delineation of marine IBAs has been a data-driven process, therefore the data tell us how big or small sites need to be to capture adequately the key habitats for seabirds.

What data have been used to identify marine IBAs?
A range of datasets have been used to define marine IBAs, and the exact combination will vary on a site-by-site basis. However, the key sources include data collected from at-sea surveys, satellite tracking devices, remote sensing technologies, seabird colony surveys, literature review and expert opinion. More details of each of these, and the considerations for their use, can be found in the
marine IBA toolkit.

Do IBAs have any legal standing?
IBA designation in itself does not bring any legal obligation, however IBAs may be used to inform the designation of Protected Areas under national legislation or international agreements.  It is not necessarily the policy of BirdLife International to seek formal protection for unprotected IBAs – this will vary on a case-by-case basis – but some Multi-Lateral Environmental Agreements  (e.g. the Ramsar Convention) have regarded unprotected IBAs as ‘shadow lists’ for potential recognition under these instruments. In the European Union, BirdLife has been aiming for a full uptake of the
IBA network in the SPA network, to achieve legally protection under the 1979 Birds Directive and be included in the protected Natura 2000 network under the 1992 Habitats Directive. Although the IBA criteria have no direct legal force for the selection of SPAs, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has in several of its rulings against Member States highlighted the exceptional value of BirdLife’s IBA inventories as the best scientific evidence available for the selection of SPAs, therefore implicitly acknowledging the validity of the IBA criteria.

How can IBAs be used in inform the description of EBSAs under the CBD?
IBA data have been submitted to all CBD regional workshops to describe Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs), where they have received recognition as being consistent with EBSA approaches and criteria and have provided input to describing sites and defining boundaries in a consistent and comparable way. BirdLife has produced several documents explaining the
linkages between IBAs and EBSAs.

Can marine IBAs be used to inform bycatch management?
Bycatch mitigation needs to occur across ocean basins if conservation gains are to be made, mitigation only in marine IBAs is not likely to achieve this, plus such an approach is not in line with global commitments to minimize bycatch and impacts on non-target species (for example UN Fish Stocks Agreement). However marine IBAs could be used as part of a wider plan to mitigate impacts of fisheries on non-target species such as seabirds. Marine IBAs could be sites where higher levels of bycatch mitigation are proposed, or measures are taken to reduce prey competition between fisheries and foraging birds.

How can marine IBAs inform fisheries management?
Marine IBAs can be used to inform sustainable fisheries management decision-making, particularly where fishing pressure on the prey base may have negative impacts on the seabird species feeding in these areas.

Should marine IBAs become no-take zones for fisheries?
In some instances marine IBAs may need to be proposed as no-take zones, for example if any level of fishing of the prey base is having a negative impact on the seabird species involved, or where seabird bycatch cannot be reduced through the use of mitigation devices. However, in many cases, all that will be required is that best practice management of activities takes place in an area to remove or minimise any negative impact they may have on the species present at the site.

Much of the experience gained to date is in Europe; can these methods be applied in other regions?
While the marine IBA programme began life in Europe (as it did in the terrestrial environment), there are now over 40 BirdLife Partners engaged in marine IBA work around the world with model projects underway in all regions. This has allowed considerable testing and amendment of the approaches developed in Europe to ensure their applicability the world over while also maintaining standards, consistency and comparability. All these projects are now using similar approaches to identifying, delineating and documenting marine IBAs via guidance provided in the marine IBA toolkit.

How can new information on marine IBAs be added to the inventory?
This first global inventory of marine IBAs is an initial assessment of the key sites, based on our current knowledge and available data. There is flexibility to allow the addition of new sites and the update of existing ones when new data become available. If you are interested in assisting with the identification and description of marine IBAs then contact the BirdLife Secretariat team in the first instance -

Data for a region is very poor, how can we proceed with identifying marine IBAs?
Initial assessments about the locations of candidate marine IBAs can be made even with limited data, these can then act as priority areas for future research, help focus data collection and build the case for a marine IBA designation. If you are interested in identifying marine IBAs contact the BirdLife team in the first instance and we can advise on how to make the most of the data you have.

How can information in the BirdLife Seabird Foraging Range Database be accessed?
Many of the completed foraging-range assessments can be accessed at, with more to be added in the near future. Data held on other species can be accessed by contacting the BirdLife Secretariat team.

How can information in the Global Procellariiform Tracking Database be accessed?
Tracking data contributed by over 100 scientists on around 50 species is housed at You can view and request different datasets through the website.

How do I request the species range maps?
Requests to use species range maps can be logged

How do I request the marine IBA data layer?
Requests to use marine IBA data should be sent to the BirdLife Secretariat team in the first instance -