Falkland Islands recognized as globally significant seabird hotspot | Polarjournal
The flightless Falkland steamer duck occurs exclusively in the Falkland Islands, but here it is found almost everywhere on shallow, sheltered stretches of coastline. Photo: Julia Hager

The Falkland Islands are a small jewel with their numerous different, almost pristine habitats and great biodiversity, on land and in the waters surrounding the islands. Twenty-two seabird species alone, including five penguin species, breed every summer on the Falkland Islands – reason enough for the conservation organization Falklands Conservation to assess whether the criteria for Key Biodiversity Areas for seabirds are met. After detailed data analysis, the project team concluded in its report that the coastal waters of the Falkland Islands are Key Biodiversity Areas for nine of the 22 breeding seabird species. Their global recognition as Key Biodiversity Areas followed last Tuesday – great news for penguins, albatrosses and other unique seabirds.

It was less than a year ago that, thanks to the work of Falklands Conservation, the coastal waters of the Falkland Islands were recognized as the world’s first Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) for Sei whales. Now, its global importance as a hotspot for seabirds has also been confirmed. According to Falklands Conservation, KBAs are an important tool for marine management, because important decisions concerning human activity in marine areas can now be made on the basis of more comprehensive knowledge in the interests of species conservation.

Sooty shearwaters are migratory birds that travel great distances each year. One of their most important breeding grounds is the Falkland Islands. Photo: Caroline Weir/Falklands Conservation

As part of the project, funded by the UK government’s Darwin Plus program, the Falklands Conservation team, in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and BirdLife International, used existing data to identify nine seabird species for KBA status:

  • Black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris)
  • Slender-billed prion (Pachyptila belcheri)
  • Southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus)
  • Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
  • Southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome)
  • Brown skua (Stercorarius antarcticus)
  • Dolphin gull (Leucophaeus scoresbii)
  • Sooty shearwater (Ardenna grisea)
  • the endemic Falkland steamer duck (Tachyeres brachypterus)

All of these species breed in the Falkland Islands and depend on the rich coastal waters, which they use not only as feeding grounds or as corridors from the breeding site to the feeding grounds, but also for rafting, preening, or bathing. However, due to climate change and potential threats from unsustainable development, such as aquaculture, bycatch, overfishing, spread of disease, energy production, and pollution, these areas are coming under increasing pressure.

Falklands Conservation‘s work “hopes to support the development of quality marine management practices in the Islands and could support the Falklands in achieving its commitments under the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) 2020.”

Rockhopper penguins, the smallest penguins in the Falkland Islands, like to breed in the company of Black-browed albatrosses – probably because they have less to fear from attacks by skuas among the large seabirds. For Black-browed albatrosses, the Falkland Islands are the most important breeding area in the world, with 500,000 pairs. Photo: Julia Hager

Emma Harte, Marine Conservation Officer at Falklands Conservation and leader of the project, says, “With these new designations, combined with last years’ sei whale KBA, the Falkland Islands has an opportunity to be at the forefront of marine management practices. Our inshore waters are incredibly important for their biodiversity – that much is clear – but with further globally-recognised standards the Falklands’ would ensure their international credibility and a future that is both environmentally and economically sustainable. At FC, we look forward to continuing our work engaging with government and the community to ensure these KBAs are recognised when developing wider national plans for the marine environment.”

Within the KBA, the waters surrounding the Jason Islands, New Island, Bird Island, and Saunders Island have also been designated as areas of particular significance because they are used by up to six of the nine seabird species. Remote and virtually pristine, Beauchêne Island was designated for the first time as a KBA because of its key albatross and rockhopper penguin populations.

As there is currently insufficient data on the other seabird species to assess them against KBA criteria, Falklands Conservation believes it is likely that in the future, as data become available, more species will be granted KBA status and thus more areas will be designated as KBAs.

Gentoo penguins are the second largest in the Falkland Islands after the king penguins. There are about 85 breeding colonies on the islands, up to five kilometers inland. Around 100,000 pairs live on the islands throughout the year. Photo: Julia Hager

“It’s excellent to see this new network of globally recognised Key Biodiversity Areas for seabirds in the Falklands inshore waters. They are a key input layer, recognised by an international scientific community, through which to inform marine spatial planning efforts. Given these KBAs represent some of the most important sites for the persistence of these species across the planet, any human activities that might occur within the vicinity of these sites should only do so if the appropriate environmental safeguards are feasible,” says Jonathan Handley of BirdLife International.

Falklands Conservation realized the project in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

Link to the project on the Falklands Conservation website:https://falklandsconservation.com/seabird-kba/

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