The report is an account of the summaries, presentations and discussions that took place at the International Seabird Seminar in Fosnavåg 20th and 21st of April 2015.
Many populations of seabirds have been declining at Runde over the last years. Almost all the species of seabirds except the Gannet, Great skua and White-tailed Eagle have decreased. Kittiwakes, Shags and Fulmars have been especially hard hit over the last 20 years, but this situation is not unique for Runde or Norway, the same tendency is happening in the UK, in Iceland and in the whole of the North East Atlantic. Although the causes for this development are multiple and complex, most speakers agreed on the following points:
1) There seems to be one common denominator, which applies to all the seabird colonies that have been discussed in this seminar: the key here is the temperature of the sea. A slight temperature increase of the average sea temperature has had hugely negative consequences for the seabird colonies in Norway, UK and Iceland. The change in temperature influences the plankton communities (ecosystemic shift in plankton communities) which, in turn, influence the many fish species which the seabirds are living off in the breeding season, especially Sandeels in Scotland, The Faeroe Islands and in South- West Iceland. There was also a general agreement about the relevance of what is called “top down effect” with the influence from predators such as Atlantic mackerel, Sea mammals, American Mink, White- tailed Eagle etc.
2) (What can we do?) Temperature and climate change are difficult to do much about in the short term, so in this case, it is important to do something about all the other parameters on which it is possible to take remedial action. Some of the relevant parameters are:
- Bycatch of seabirds in modern fisheries
- More long term and restricted fishery conservation
- Marine Protected Areas
- Reduction in plastic pollution and other environmental pollutants etc.
3) There was a general agreement about the usefulness of arranging meetings such as this seminar where researchers from different countries and from different disciplines come together to exchange ideas and talk face to face about a focused topic. All the speakers seemed to concur on that point. An example that shows the feasibility of such multidisciplinary exchanges was demonstrated in the discussion between Sandeel expert Tore Johannes and Puffin expert Sarah Wanless, when they talked about how it could be
possible that Puffins in the Faeroes apparently live off Sandeels in the winter, when the Sandeels “according to the book” should be buried in the sand. (See the discussion in Appendix 1. S 42-44).
A set of very interesting findings was also reported from Iceland: Firstly: The realization that Europe’s biggest Puffin colony at the Westman Islands is going through some of the same declines as seabirds in Runde and Norway. This is a development that apparently has happened over the last 10-15 years. The reason for this is that the Sandeels have almost disappeared from the Westman Islands and the southern part of Iceland, a situation driven by the increasing temperature in the sea.
Secondly: Very interesting results were presented by Dr. Erpur Snær Hansen when he showed a time-line series of Puffin hunting in Iceland and the Westman Islands since the 1800’s. In this material he demonstrated a similar decline in Puffin populations in the 1920s and 1930s (collapse in 1931) co-ordinated with similar increases in seatemperature as we see today (collapse in 2004). His data also suggests a much earlier period with declines in Puffins as expected (collapse in 1891). This might indicate a cyclical change in sea temperature, although the decline in the 1920-30s was less extreme than what is experienced today. The Seabird experts from the UK were generally more explicit than the Icelanders and Norwegians in mentioning anthropogenic climate change as a significant driver behind the increased temperatures in the North Sea, and seabird declines caused by this. (For a more detailed and extensive summary and conclusion see pages 29-34).