Bird monitoring improves

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​​Photo: Johnny Erola

The Baltic Sea area is known as a good area for seabirds. The bird diversity and abundance has long been recognized by birdwatchers who are particularly keen to celebrate the migratory seasons. For decades, birds have been monitored in countries surrounding the Baltic Sea but no common guidelines have so far been followed. Since seabirds are highly mobile in the environment, monitoring requires international coordination and cooperation over the entire Baltic Sea region. A HELCOM project has recently produced recommendations and monitoring guidelines for seabirds in the Baltic that have also become incorporated in permanent HELCOM work.

Good coordination is crucial in regional marine protection, starting from coordinated monitoring that provides data which is comparable for the entire region. Through this coordination, scientists will be able to make better evaluations of the status of the seabird populations which in turn will benefit all users that have an interest in seabirds. Enabling this cooperation requires all the Baltic coastal countries to implement the new guidelines, to which they commit through HELCOM.

Necessary for preserving birdlife

A metadatabase on seabird monitoring surveys is one result from the BALSAM project (2013-2015). Detailed information was collected on all marine waterbird surveys carried out in the Baltic Sea since 1991. This metadatabase can be used as a basis for building up an operational seabird database in the future that will provide more accurate information about the populations, migratory habits etc. In the future, harmonized monitoring practices and a common database will allow following migratory birds throughout their whole lifespan. Moreover, the monitoring will not be limited by the geographical factor or data variations over the borders of the various countries.

Protecting important habitats for birds, such as breeding and feeding grounds, is a prerequisite for preserving healthy birdlife. Bird monitoring provides knowledge on the location and quality of these important areas.  The knowledge will be used when the coherence of the network of the Baltic coastal and marine protected areas (HELCOM MPAs) is considered during the latter half of 2015, considering the adequacy of the current design and extent of the protected areas for seabirds and other components of the marine ecosystem.  

In autumn 2015, HELCOM will move ahead in formally launching an inter-regional working group on seabirds. HELCOM will partner with the peer commission for the North-East Atlantic area (OSPAR) as well as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) for even more efficient and coordinated work on safeguarding the wellbeing of the highly mobile seabirds, essential in many ways for a healthy ecosystem.

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The Baltic Sea pilot project (BALSAM, October 2013-May 2015), with 18 partners in countries surrounding the Baltic Sea and coordinated by the HELCOM Secretariat with EU co-finance , focused on improving the coordination of environmental monitoring in the Baltic. The project aim was to enhance the capacity of the Baltic Sea Member States to develop their marine monitoring programmes. BALSAM focused on gaps in monitoring that had been identified by HELCOM and provided multiple guidelines for coordinated monitoring. The guidelines were delivered by international cooperation of experts. Number of institutions and researchers contributed to develop the guidelines which present the practices of Baltic Sea countries. The monitoring guidelines and metadatabase are available on the HELCOM website and available for everybody interested.