Travels and travails of Falklands seabirds

THE travels and travails of seabirds was the subject of a talk last week at the Chamber of Commerce by marine biologist Dr James Grecian, a marine biologist collaborating with SAERI, (South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute).  

Dr Grecian told the audience that global seabird populations have declined by 70% in the last 50 years. The main impacts on the birds have been from fishing, predation by invasive mammals and climate change.

Although breeding colonies can be studied relatively easily to allow scientists to better understand behaviour and mortality rates, very little is known about the birds once they leave the breeding grounds.

Dr Grecian has previously done research into the interaction between the huge gannet colony on Bass Rock (near Edinburgh) and wind farms in the North Sea to help plan where new developments could be placed to minimise impacts on the birds. Using similar techniques, and with the help of Falklands-based scientist, Megan Tierney at SAERI, James is in the Islands working on the GAP project. 

One component of the GAP project is to help fill in the gaps in our knowledge of where seabirds such as penguins travel to feed at different times of the year and how they overlap with human activities, such as oil development in the South Atlantic.  

Using a variety of tracking devices, including satellite trackers and tiny geo-locators or light loggers (about the size of a watch battery), scientists can track individual birds far out to sea, and discover where they spend time and undertake activities such as foraging for food. 

It is hoped that the information gained from the tracked birds will provide information to allow better management decisions to be made when exploiting offshore oil and gas resources.
This is Dr Grecian’s second visit, but he can clearly recall his first impressions: “I thought ‘this is an amazing, beautiful wildlife paradise. Everyone is very friendly and helpful.’”
He says the next step will be to use the data to map the feeding and transiting areas of the penguins and see how they overlap with proposed oil and gas development and any potential impacts, for example noise, light, shipping or oil spills.  

Dr Grecian has been busy looking at data collected on Gentoos, Rockhoppers and Magellanic penguins. However,  he is hoping to incorporate tracking data on other key species such as Black-browed Albatrosses and seals that has been collected by both local (eg Falklands Conservation) and international researchers who work on the Islands.  
Ultimately, the research will help to provide a cohesive and holistic view of the impact of human activity on marine life around the Islands.

The research for the GAP project is jointly funded by Falkland Islands Government and the Falkland Islands Petroleum Licensees Association.