Study to identify places important for birds

A cooperative study between the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) Bird Biology Subcommittee and BirdLife International is presently underway to compile an Inventory of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for Antarctica. The IBA concept was initiated by BirdLife International in Europe in 1985 and to date has gained protection for 65,000 km2 of key habitat around the world. IBAs have been identified in the Americas, Europe and Africa. The sites identified as IBAs are localities of international importance for threatened species, restricted range species, species confined to specific habitats and those that congregate in high numbers to breed. The inventory will be a major advance for conservation efforts in the Antarctic.

The inventory will draw upon compilations of the breeding distributions of Antarctic seabirds produced by the Bird Biology Subcommittee over the last decade. Detailed data are available for the five species of penguins that breed in Antarctica, including the Antarctic Peninsula: emperor Aptenodytes forsteri, Adélie Pygoscelis adeliae, gentoo P. papua, chinstrap P. antarctica and macaroni Eudyptes chrysolophus penguins. Other data on southern giant petrels Macronectes giganteus, a globally threatened species, snow petrels Pagodroma nivea and Antarctic petrels Thalassoica antarctica, will be used to assess localities against the IBA criteria.

The inventory will make use of criteria employed internationally, providing uniformity in application and results for the conservation assessment of breeding seabird colonies around the world. Several criteria are likely to be used in the selection of Antarctic IBAs. One criterion stipulates that a site holds one percent or more of the breeding population of a species. Use of this criterion would identify the emperor penguin colony at Auster (67°23’S 64°02’E) as an IBA, as the breeding population there is approximately 11,150 pairs of a worldwide total of approximately 200,000 pairs. Similarly, Scullin Monolith (67°50’S, 66° 50’E), with its massive Antarctic petrel colony (157,000 pairs of a minimum total of half a million pairs) and more than 50,000 pairs of Adélie penguins (of 2.2 million pairs in total) would also be identified as an IBA through the use of a site by two or more species. A third criterion will cover those sites used for breeding by species with an elevated conservation status. The three breeding localities of southern giant petrels in the AAT (Giganteus Island near Mawson, Hawker Island near Davis and the Frazier Islands offshore from Casey) would also qualify for IBA status.

Eric Woehler1, John Cooper2 and Lee Belbin1

1. Australian Antarctic Division
2. University of Cape Town