After decades of uninterrupted scientific studies about Malta’s seabirds, BirdLife Malta is proud to announce that it will continue studying seabirds on land and at sea following the start of a new project it has embarked on. This will be a Mediterranean-wide collaboration for the conservation of two endemic and threatened Mediterranean seabird species: the Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) and the Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus).
Through the new €3.45 million LIFE PanPuffinus! project, BirdLife Malta has joined forces with its BirdLife partners from another four countries (France, Greece, Portugal and Spain) to share knowledge and investigate further the whereabouts of these elusive birds, their interactions with fisheries, and the perils these sea voyagers face during their lifecycles. In view of this BirdLife Malta is happy to have also partnered in this project with Malta’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture within the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Animal Rights. The Ministry has also committed to co-finance this project.
The Balearic Shearwater (Garnija Balearika) is classified as Critically Endangered with Extinction on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, whilst the Yelkouan Shearwater (Garnija) is classified as Vulnerable. Both species are very susceptible to a changing environment and are affected by multiple marine and terrestrial threats which include pollution, the accidental capture of birds in fishing gear known as bycatch, climate change and severe weather. When it comes to breeding seabirds, invasive alien species and human disturbance are the main threats to these seabirds.
Both species spend a significant portion of their life on open seas, rarely visiting land except during the breeding season. Due to this they encounter a diversity of threats. Although both species breed exclusively in the Mediterranean, like many other seabirds they wander through different seas, in particular during the non breeding season. Balearic Shearwaters visit the Atlantic coast of Portugal, France and southern England whilst large numbers of Yelkouan Shearwaters winter in the Black Sea. That is why collaboration across boundaries is vital, and the involvement of a wide array of stakeholders is necessary to ensure safe seas and colonies for these iconic seabirds.
Throughout the delivery of this five-year project (2021–2025), BirdLife Malta will build on the expertise gained through the previous three EU LIFE-funded projects which studied Malta’s pelagic species, namely the LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater Project (2006–2010), the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project (2011–2016), and the most recent LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project (2016–2020) which has just come to an end this September.
Apart from hazards already identified and addressed through these projects such as light and noise pollution, human disturbance including from boat-based tourism, and egg/chick predation by invasive mammal species such as rats, the new project will also address emerging problems such as plastics, which might affect both these seabird species on a great scale in the next decades.
LIFE PanPuffinus! aims to improve the conservation status of these endangered species across the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic coast of Portugal through a joint effort between all participating partners to tackle the major common threats they face: both terrestrial (on-land) and marine (at-sea). Above all, the project will showcase a unique collaboration of different stakeholders across the Mediterranean for the conservation of these two seabird species.
This content was supplied by Bird Life Malta.