Seabird populations are on a steady and dramatic decline. 70% of seabirds have vanished since the 1950s, which represents a staggering 230 million birds, according to a new UBC study.
Researcher Michelle Paleczny studied more than 500 different seabirds populations, which represents nearly 20% of the global population.
She said the findings are cause for concern.
“Seabirds are particularly good indicators of the health of marine ecosystems,” said Paleczny. ”When we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we can see there is something wrong with marine ecosystems. It gives us an idea of the overall impact we’re having.”
The cause of the decline is related to several factors including overfishing of the fish the birds rely on for food, birds getting tangled in fishing gear, plastic and oil pollution, destruction of seabird habitats, and climate change.
The species of seabird with the largest dip in populations is the albatross because of their decades-long life spans and long travel patterns, which makes them more vulnerable to dangers they might encounter along the way.
One of those dangers is getting caught on longline fishing hooks and drowning, a problem that kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds each year.
“Our work demonstrates the strong need for increased seabird conservation effort internationally,” said Paleczny. “Loss of seabirds causes a variety of impacts in coastal and marine ecosystems.”
Without seabirds to help fertilize entire food webs, the continued decline could start to affect other parts of the ecosystem. They also eat and are eaten by many other species.
This is the first study to estimate overall changes in seabird populations.