This study presents the results of the first broad-scale, spatial cumulative impact analysis (SCIA) conducted for colonial-nesting seabirds at-sea in eastern Canada. Species distribution models, based on at-sea tracking data for thirteen species/groups of seabirds (n = 520 individuals), were applied to over 5000 species-specific colonies to map relative abundance patterns across the entire region. This information was combined with distributional data for a number of key anthropogenic threats to quantify exposure to fisheries, light and ship-source oil pollution, and marine traffic. As a final step, information about species-specific sensitivity to each threat was integrated to compute region-wide cumulative risk.
The data products permit the visualization of the interaction between species and threats, and confirm that large portions of the coastal zones of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, as well as the Grand Banks shelf break, constitute areas where breeding seabirds experience the highest potential impact. The cumulative risk maps revealed that species which were either widespread throughout coastal areas (e.g., gulls), or capable of foraging long distance (Leach's Storm-Petrel), were most at risk. Cumulative risk maps help identify appropriate and potentially effective management and conservation actions, and are of value to federal regulators responsible for managing cumulative effects as part of the new Canadian Impact Assessment Act. They also can assist marine planners achieve the Aichi marine conservation targets as specified by the Convention on Biodiversity. By filling a knowledge gap for a large potion of the northwest Atlantic, these results help to counter the “shifting baselines syndrome”.