Community Monitoring of Seabirds

Brown Noddies on Lancelin Island (Photo N. Dunlop).
Brown Noddies on Lancelin Island (Photo N. Dunlop).

New research to find out where seabirds are feeding acts as predictive indicators of oceanic conditions, with particular relevance to fisheries and marine reserves.

The research, coordinated by the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council (NACC), brings together experts from around the world, including the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA), the Department of Fisheries, seabird biologists Dr Jill Shephard and Dr Chris Surman and the University of Amsterdam, to engage coastal communities in monitoring seabird foraging patterns along WA’s west coast.

According to Dr Nic Dunlop, seabird biologist and Citizen Science Co-ordinator at the CCWA, the project team recently trialed the methodology by fitting tiny radio trackers to two Sooty Terns at the Abrolhos Islands. These terns spent days feeding out at sea, and upon their return, the GPS information from their trackers was auotmatically downloaded to a base station at the Saville Kent Centre on Rat Island.

Sooty Tern tracking data at the Abrolhos Islands.
Sooty Tern tracking data at the Abrolhos Islands.

At the start of the next breeding season later this year, more trackers will be fitted to Sooty Terns at the Abrolhos Islands and to Brown Noddies at Lancelin Island. Tracking data will be collected over a number of successive breeding seasons before the project is finalised.

In the last decade WA fisheries have experienced substantial change as a result of altered oceanic processes. In the face of continued changes, new bio-indicators serve as tools in fishery

and biodiversity management. Seabird foraging patterns are linked to ocean productivity, which means that seabirds can be used to gather information on fisheries.

“The initial tracking data shows that the two Sooty Terns fed in completely different locations” says Dr Dunlop. “This was unexpected and might indicate that two different foraging strategies are employed by these birds during chick rearing, known as ‘bi-modal foraging’. If this proves to be the case, it will be the first time this behaviour has been discovered in a tern species”.

If all this sounds interesting and you would like to find out more, as well as learn how you can get involved, please come along to a community presentation and workshop at the WA Museum – Geraldton on Wednesday 26th Feb 5:30-7:30 pm. As a bonus, the Australian Geographic ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year exhibition will also be available for viewing. Numbers are limited so please RSVP to Felicity Beswick on 9938 0108 or

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