Marine Policy Officer Ruby Temple-Long shares a bit about how the RSPB are innovating for a sustainable ocean to protect our internationally important seabirds.
World Oceans Day 2020: How the RSPB is innovating for a sustainable ocean
The 8th June marks World Oceans Day. It is dedicated to celebrating our blue planet, the wonderful wildlife we find in it and the role it plays in all our lives. However, it also serves as a reminder for us to protect and restore marine ecosystems if we are to ensure that nature, communities and livelihoods thrive in the future.
The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day is ‘Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean’. Simply put, a sustainable ocean is one where human activity does not negatively affect the health of our seas. The definition of innovation is a bit more fluid. It can refer to technical gadgets and products, or it can just mean doing things a bit differently.
Many of the challenges the natural world is facing require us to come up with novel solutions, if we are to deliver the transformative change needed for a healthy planet. This is recognised in the 2020 theme for World Oceans Day and will be explored further in the coming years, particularly in the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
Innovation is key to our marine work at the RSPB, even with all the technology we have, the seas remain relatively unexplored. In fact, more is known about the surface of the moon than the ocean floor! Teams across the RSPB are continuously developing and testing new ideas, methods and even inventions to help understand, conserve and protect life above and beneath the waves.
I’d like to share more about how we are innovating for a sustainable ocean to protect our internationally important seabirds.
Saving Scotland’s puffins, one picture at a time
We know how puffins capture the hearts and camera lenses of the people who are lucky enough to spend time with them. So, to help our scientists learn more about what puffins are feeding their chicks, or ‘pufflings’, and how this might have changed over time, we’ve been asking the public aka, the Puffarazzi, to send in photos of these charismatic birds with fish in their bills from colonies across the UK.
Colin Wilkinson (rspb-images.com)
From the pictures we receive, we can explore variations in the puffin’s diets, which tells us all manner of things! We can learn more about the challenges the puffins face, explore the causes of population change, spot regional differences in the availability of food, and even get a general indication of the health of our seas - all vital information to help us give these little seabirds a brighter future.
If you want to get involved with Project Puffin, you can learn more about it here.
Tracking seabirds to find out how they use the marine environment
To effectively protect seabirds, we need to understand how they use the marine environment, but this is no small feat. Gathering data on the lives of seabirds when they leave their colonies can be challenging however, technological innovations have been revolutionary for seabird tracking. We can now use small, light satellite or geolocation tags to observe seabirds in the open ocean.
Aidan McCormick (rspb-images.com)
These tiny devices collect huge amounts of data which allow us to learn more about where the birds go, how far they venture, and when, why and how different sea areas are used. We now have one of the world’s largest seabird tracking datasets of its kind, and from this information we’ve been able to identify important at sea ‘hotspots’ around Scotland and beyond.
Find out more about one of our recent seabird tracking projects, Following the Seabirds’ Trail here.
Finding solutions to the incidental capture of seabirds in fisheries
Across the globe, one of the top threats seabirds face is accidental capture in fishing gear (bycatch). With our partners at Birdlife International, we’ve been working to tackle this issue at an industry grassroots and policy level.
Specialists in the RSPB-hosted BirdLife Marine Programme – which includes the Albatross Task Force – undertake essential work onboard fishing vessels, working with crews to understand how seabirds get caught up in fishing nets or hooks. Armed with this knowledge we can work with them to develop and test innovative tools to promote seabird-friendly fishing. Often, these highly effective mitigation measures are relatively simple and include small changes being made to gear (e.g. bird scaring streamers and weighted lines) or behaviour (e.g. offal management and night-setting).
Emerging research shows there could be a seabird bycatch problem in Scottish waters, particularly affecting Northern fulmar. We are already using our global experience to help improve our understanding of the issue and develop effective solutions to protect seabirds in our waters.
Read more about some of the exciting research underway to minimise seabird bycatch in gillnet fisheries here.
© Rachel Hudson
Each of these innovations take us a step closer to better understanding the enigmatic world of our ocean wanderers. Seabirds are top predators and as such, are indicators of the health of our marine ecosystems. From the insights gained, we can advocate for improved management and protection of our seas to ensure marine life thrives.
Scotland is home to 70% of the UK’s breeding seabirds, and over 60% of the UK’s seas. Unfortunately, some seabird populations are in steep decline and the marine environment is not in a good state. Find out more about the RSPB’s important marine conservation work here.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654