Audubon California has recently launched an initiative to protect and restore the diverse array of seabirds in California and the North Pacific – which include some of the Pacific Coast’s most fascinating and important species. One of the key goals of this new program is to raise the public’s awareness of the importance of these birds that are rarely seen, but are nonetheless vital to our marine ecosystems.
These birds all inhabit the California Current Ecosystem, a discrete marine system that stretches from Vancouver Island in Canada to Baja, Mexico. This is one of the world's most productive marine areas. Every year millions of seabirds breed, feed, and/or migrate through off of our coastline, taking advantage of wind-driven upwelling which brings nutrients to the surface and creates rich food resources to top predators such as marine mammals, large fish and seabirds.
The Ashy Storm-Petrel, Laysan Albatross, Marbled Murrelet are just a few of the nearly 150 breeding and migrating seabirds in the California Current System. The larger group of seabirds generally fall into three categories: Procellariidae (albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters), Pelecaniformes (pelicans, boobies, cormorants, and frigatebirds), and Alcidae (murres, guillemots, murrelets, auklets, and puffins). Some of these birds spend years at sea, only coming ashore on islands, beaches or cliffs to breed. They are uniquely adapted to marine life with dense waterproof feathers, layers of fat, and desalinization system.
Audubon California has prioritized seabird conservation because these species are critical components of marine ecosystems. As abundant top predators, they are sensitive indicators of change in the marine environment, telling us a great deal about the impacts of climate change and pollution. Eleven of Audubon’s Watchlist Birds are seabirds. Three Pacific coast species are on the federal endangered species list (Brown Pelican, Least Tern, and Marbled Murrelet), and seven more are federal birds of Special Conservation Concern.
One initial focus is the California Marine Life Protection Act, which allows public representatives to create a network of marine reserves – underwater parks – throughout the state. These reserves are needed to restore damaged fish stocks and protect seabirds from disturbance at key breeding areas. Audubon's coastal chapters will continue to prove absolutely critical to this process.
Another focus is the designation of Marine Important Bird Areas for the entire North Pacific from Alaska to Baja. Audubon California is leading this tri-national initiative and will finish the work in 2010. These Important Bird Areas will serve as the basis for seabird advocacy and management in the region.