Introduction to the Marine IBA e-Atlas

Many seabird species are spectacularly mobile, travelling thousands of kilometres across international waters and multiple Exclusive Economic Zones and only return to land to breed. They face many serious conservation challenges and are now the most threatened group of birds. Given the long periods that seabirds spend at sea, the multiple threats they face there and the vast distances they cover, identifying a network of priority sites for their conservation is a challenge—but vital to ensure their future survival. We present here the first global inventory of these sites.

BirdLife International’s Important Bird Areas (IBA) programme identifies the most important sites for site-based conservation efforts. To date, over 10,000 IBAs have been identified globally. The programme has been used to set conservation priorities in terrestrial environments for over 30 years, and unprotected IBAs have been  used as ‘shadow lists’ of sites for recognition under various agreements (e.g. EU Birds Directive, Ramsar).Since 2004 the BirdLife Global Seabird Programme has been working with the BirdLife Partnership to identify IBAs for seabirds both on land and at-sea.  Until recently many BirdLife Partners have lacked the capacity to engage in marine issues and IBA identification in the marine environment. Over the past five years the number of BirdLife Partner countries engaged in the programme has risen from 4 to over 40, primarily as a result of a range of regional and national capacity building workshops. Regional workshops have been held in the:

  • Baltic – 3-7 Oct 2007 - Jurkalne, Latvia; 10-11 Mar 2009 - Riga, Latvia.
  • North East Pacific (Barrow to Baja) – 19-21 Jan 2009 - Big Sur, California.
  • Mediterranean – 20-23 Oct 2009 - Valletta, Malta.
  • East Asia – 14-16 April 2010 - Tokyo, Japan.
  • West Indian Ocean – 26-28 Oct 2011 - Mombasa, Kenya.
  • Meso America – 24-27 Jan 2012 - Gamboa, Panama.
  • North East Atlantic (FAME) – 5-7 March 2012 - Santander, Spain.

IBAs are chosen using semi-quantitative, standardised, internationally agreed criteria.  For seabirds, IBAs are identified based on the presence of more than threshold numbers of:

  • Globally threatened species (IUCN Red List).
  • Congregations (areas holding >1% of the global or, in some cases, biogeographic population).

The types of site that qualify as IBAs include seabird breeding colonies, foraging areas around breeding colonies, non-breeding (usually coastal) concentrations, migratory bottlenecks and feeding areas for pelagic species.

Northern Fulmar. Isles of Scilly, UK. © Ben Lascelles