Shearwater Protection on Land and at Sea: A Strong Partnership to Conserve Two Mediterranean Species

LIFE PanPuffinus started in September and this is welcome news for some of the elusive inhabitants of our coasts and seas. The project is a Mediterranean collaboration to conserve two endemic and threatened Mediterranean seabird species: the Balearic Shearwater and the Yelkouan Shearwater.

BirdLife partners from five countries (Malta, France, Greece, Portugal and Spain) will join forces and share knowledge to further understand the whereabouts of these birds, their interactions with fisheries and the dangers these seafarers face during their life cycle examine.

Both species spend a significant portion of their lives in the open ocean and rarely visit land except during the breeding season. As highly mobile species that roam freely across the ocean and use a wide variety of habitats, they are exposed to a wide variety of threats. Both species breed exclusively in the Mediterranean, but migrate (like many other seabirds) through different seas, especially during the non-breeding season. Balearic shearwaters visit the Atlantic coasts of Portugal, France and southern England, while large numbers of Yelkouan shearwaters hibernate in the Black Sea. It is for this reason that cross-border cooperation is vital and the involvement of a wide variety of stakeholders is required to ensure safe seas and colonies for these legendary seabirds.

According to the last EU assessment of the status of birds (2020), the shearwater of the Balearic Islands is classified as critically endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List, while the shearwater of Yelkouan is classified as endangered (VU). Both species are very vulnerable to changing environmental conditions and are affected by multiple marine and terrestrial threats. Among them, there are threats common to other species found in the Mediterranean, such as pollution, bycatch, climate change, and severe weather. When it comes to seabird breeding, invasive alien species and human interference and disturbance are the main threats to these Mediterranean dwellers, like many other Mare Nostrum seabirds.

In addition, problems such as plastics are emerging that could affect both Yelkoaun and Balearic Shearwaters on a large scale over the next few decades. Although the results for many seabird species are not yet known, the likelihood of an overlap between seabirds and plastic in the Mediterranean and Black Sea is many times higher than that of other sea basins (in lit.).

Moreover, what happens in the Mediterranean does not stay in the Mediterranean; This applies to the sea birds and their threats. Political responsibility for the conservation of these two species rests in several EU and non-EU countries, and legislation (along with effective conservation efforts) must be taken into account to improve the protection of these birds and address the threats to which they are exposed are. The project is an example of cooperation between European countries in two sea basins. In the future, partners should strengthen their teamwork by involving stakeholders from the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and other important areas outside the EU.

The project aims to improve the conservation status of these endangered puffin species in the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic coast of Portugal through transboundary conservation efforts to address the two main threats – one terrestrial, the predators of eggs and chicks by invasive mammals (such as rats and cats) and a marine, the accidental capture of birds in fishing gear. By sharing experiences between countries working on the conservation of these pelagic seabirds, the BirdLife partnership will improve surveillance and data collection, strengthen stakeholder collaboration, increase the efficiency of conservation efforts, and improve understanding of threats to minimize their impact. The project measures will also help improve the shearwater population development by combating their threats at sea and on land while ensuring the conservation of their habitat. This is a critical step in the implementation of the international species action plans for both species.

As a strong partnership, we are excited to begin this 5 year adventure and spend time in key colonies and on boats to shed light on and contribute to the conservation of shearwater life across the Mediterranean and beyond!


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