According to study results, seabirds spend almost 40% of the time outside the country’s borders
When we think of the high seas, pictures of daring pirates Setting a course for distant horizons often occurs to me. During the Golden Age of Piracy, these lawless buccaneers were considered “hostis humani generis” – enemies of all humanity – meaning that any country had the right to seize a pirate ship in international waters. Today there is growing evidence that we may need to take a similar approach to the conservation of marine life, but in a more positive sense – it is a universal responsibility that nations must work together to protect it.
Such evidence emerged today when a new study found that albatrosses and their close relatives, the great petrels, spend 39% of their time in oceans outside of national jurisdiction. Using tracking data from 5,775 birds from 39 species, the researchers found that all species regularly end up in other countries’ waters, meaning that no single nation can adequately ensure their conservation. In addition, all species were dependent on the high seas: international waters that cover half of the world’s oceans and a third of the earth’s surface.
This is particularly worrying given that albatrosses and large petrels are some of the most endangered animals in the world and more than half of the species are critically endangered. At sea, they are exposed to numerous threats, including injuries and deaths from fishing gear, pollution, and loss of their natural prey due to overfishing and climate change.
Co-author Maria Dias of BirdLife International: “Negative interactions with fishing are particularly serious in international waters because industrial practices are less monitored and regulations are not being followed. Beyond fish, there is currently no global legal framework for the conservation of biodiversity on the high seas. “
For example, the Amsterdam albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis (endangered) spends 47% of its time in international waters of the Indian Ocean. Although it benefits from strong protection in its breeding colony on the island of Amsterdam (one of the French southern territories), its preservation at sea is much more difficult. When the <100 remaining adults roam the seas in search of squid prey, they are using a vast area stretching from South Africa to Australia. This requires international coordination to minimize the risk of fishing gear death.
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Hope is on the horizon. The international scope of this study is itself a perfect example of how seabirds can connect nations. This global collaboration, which brought together researchers from 16 countries who agreed to share their data through BirdLife’s Seabird tracking database, couldn’t have come at a more important time: the United Nations is currently discussing a global treaty on conservation and sustainable use biodiversity in international waters.
“Our study clearly shows that albatrosses and large petrels need reliable protection that goes beyond the borders of a single country,” says Martin Beal, lead author of the study at the Center for Marine and Environmental Sciences of ISPA – Instituto Universitário in Lisbon, Portugal. “This treaty gives countries a tremendous opportunity to commit to protecting species wherever they go.”
Legal measures under discussion under the treaty, such as introducing environmental impact assessments for industrial activities on the high seas, can significantly reduce the pressure on species that call these oceans home.
Carolina Hazin, Marine Policy Coordinator at BirdLife, sees the study as part of an even broader picture. “No conservation of migratory species can be effective if it is spatially, temporally and actively fragmented. This study reaffirms the urgency for the United Nations to adopt the High Seas Treaty, which in turn will contribute to the ambitious global framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity for the Protection of All Nature over the next few decades. “
The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” didn’t work for the pirates of the Golden Age. And as daring explorers of the animal world, it shouldn’t apply to seabirds either.
The global political responsibility for the conservation of albatrosses and large petrels is published in Science Advances.