Thu, 22 Apr 2021

WELLINGTON, March 4 (Xinhua) -- A science research released on Thursday showed seabirds spend almost 40 percent of their time on the high seas, highlighting the need for international cooperation to ensure their survival.

A global effort by seabird researchers, including those from New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), has resulted in the first assessment of where the world's most threatened seabirds spend their time.

The researchers tracked the movements of 5,775 individual birds belonging to 39 species using miniature electronic tags. The tracked birds were tagged at 87 breeding sites in many countries.

The results showed that all species regularly cross into the waters of other countries, meaning that no single nation can adequately ensure their conservation. Furthermore, all species depended on the high seas, which are areas of international waters covering half of the world's oceans and a third of the earth's surface.

The study came as the United Nations is discussing a global treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in international waters.

Albatrosses and their close relatives, the large petrels, are among the world's most-threatened animals, with over half of the species at risk of extinction.

Approximately 168 seabird taxa have been recorded in New Zealand waters, many of which breed nowhere else. In fact, New Zealand hosts the largest number of breeding species of seabirds anywhere in the world, including 25 species of albatrosses and large petrels.

"While seabird tracking research has not been carried out for all albatrosses and large petrels in New Zealand, we know that several species also spend time in Chile and Peru, in Japan and the USA in the north Pacific Ocean, while others visit Namibia and South Africa," said NIWA seabird ecologist David Thompson.

Thompson said he hopes the research will highlight how little control countries have over seabirds when they are using the high seas.

"A very large proportion of seabird tracking researchers globally were involved in this work, which has quantified for the first time the extent to which albatrosses and large petrels use Exclusive Economic Zones of different countries and the high seas.

"It's hugely important because now we have a comprehensive international framework that allows different countries to collaborate on the conservation issues facing this group of seabirds, and for all countries that have breeding populations of these species to take collective responsibility for their conservation in the high seas. This type of research could not have been produced any other way," Thompson said.

Martin Beal, the Portugal-based lead author of the research, described albatrosses as "the ultimate globetrotters."

"However, this incredible lifestyle makes them vulnerable to threats in places where legal protection is inadequate," he said.

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