This story is original appeared on Inside Climate News which is part of Climate office cooperation.
Seabirds evolved about 60 million years ago, as Earth’s continents drifted toward their current locations and the modern oceans were formed. They spread across thousands of undisturbed islands in the widening seas. And as flying dinosaurs and giant, carnivorous marine reptiles died out, seabirds also began to fill an ecological niche as ecosystem engineers.
They distribute nutrients, in the form of guano, which are beneficial to plankton, seagrasses, and coral reefs, which in turn feed fish populations that seabirds and marine mammals eat in a cycle that is a biological carbon pump. The stronger the pump, the more carbon dioxide it pushes into the seafloor sediment store.
Seabird colonies of almost unimaginable size likely survived eons of profound climatic shifts and geological upheavals of colliding continents, playing a profound role in the ocean carbon cycle. But even on the most remote island worlds, they were quickly wiped out by the humans who colonized and inhabited the planet during the past 200 years.
By some estimates, the total number of global seabirds has declined by as much as 90 percent over that period, with declines of 70 percent since 1950 alone. Seabirds are the most endangered group of birds and one of the most endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Of the 346 seabird species, 97 are globally threatened, and another 35 are listed as near threatened. It is known or suspected that approximately half of all seabird species are experiencing population declines.
Most of the damage was caused by invading predators—the humans themselves, and the rats, cats, dogs, and pigs they brought with them as they exploited island after island. After millions of years of predator-free evolution, birds did not recognize new species as threats. They were particularly vulnerable because they do not breed as profusely as many terrestrial birds, and they spend a great deal of time caring for their flightless young on the ground.
There has also been direct human predation on an industrial scale, with seabird eggs harvested as food, guano as fertilizer, and the birds themselves extracting the oil—along with seals, sea lions, and whales—or as unwanted bycatch from commercial fishing boats. On the Farallon Islands near San Francisco, home to the largest nesting colony of seabirds in the United States, the mouse population dropped from 400,000 to 60,000 in just a few decades during the gold rush, as people harvested up to half a million eggs a year.
Today the Farallon Islands are protected as part of a marine sanctuary and recover nesting colonies of seabirds, helping to preserve the surrounding marine ecosystem, including great white sharks, predators that occasionally prey on northern fur seal populations that have returned to protected. Rhinos, related to puffins, are back, too. More than 20 endangered species—birds, reptiles, insects, marine mammals, and even sea turtles—live on and around the islands.
I’m already starting to come back
He said there are hundreds of other seabird recovery projects around the world showing signs of success Everything is spatz, a scientist with Pacific Rim Conservation, a nonprofit organization focused on ecosystem restoration. Spaatz was the lead author of the April 10 study Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which collected data from 851 restoration projects in 36 countries targeting 138 species of seabirds over the past 70 years.
The new study focused on efforts to actively reintroduce bird populations, including methods of social attraction, such as the use of decoys, as well as direct transfer of young birds to new locations free of invasive predators. In more than 75 percent of the restorations, the target species visited the sites and started breeding within two years.