Gulls, turtles and seals, three marine triumphs

Marine wildlife in Europe has long been suffering because of human activities. Although we have a lot of work to do still, here are three marine stories that show the Nature Directives work when they are put to good use.

1) A special gull – and you thought they were all the same!

We all remember the gulls in Finding Nemo, portrayed as lazy, dumb, and incapable of saying anything besides one word: ‘mine’. Gulls are a group of seabirds that have a pretty bad reputation (a.k.a. ‘the flying rats’). Like rats, gulls are often perceived as dirty and diseased scavengers of food. They stir negative emotions like gangs of thieves would – stealing your sandwiches before you’ve even had a chance to take a bite!

As a side note, a gull’s Klepto-parasitism isn’t just against humans, although we tend to think very highly of our species. We find a gull’s behaviour very offensive – that they would dare steal or eat our food without permission. However, I would like to introduce you to another side of the gull. Watch one long enough and you’ll notice an incredible display of acrobatics, patience, and simply straight out cheekiness (in a cute way).

Like most other parents, gulls are protective and very aggressive against anything approaching their nest – hence the famous sky dive attacks you may have already experienced. Like many seabirds, they mate for life – although divorces do happen with some social problems for a couple of years.

There are 20 species of gull in Europe, and although they share a similar build, they are all quite different, some having more pronounced looks than others. One in particular, Audouin’s Gull, which can only be found in the Mediterranean, is unlike many of its cousins because it rarely scavenges. Rather, it’s a specialist coastal and pelagic fish eater (not to say that they wouldn’t pass off diving for an easy fish that has been thrown away by a fisher at sea).

It was one of the world’s rarest gulls in 1975, with only 1,000 pairs. Protection under the Birds Directive contributed to the creation and implementation of a European action plan which has helped secure its survival, especially in Spain.

Several projects were implemented that contributed to successful re-colonisation of breeding islands and the control of invasive black rats which were predating colonies. Today, with the most recent assessment of the European birds (the European Red List of Birds), we can say that the Audouin’s Gull has the lowest level of extinction risk with around 21,000 pairs.

But we must be cautious. Although there has been improvement, particularly in Spain, much more still needs to be done across the Mediterranean to ensure that this gull continues to survive, such as implementing safe fishing gears to stop fishers from accidentally catching gulls in their fishing lines and nets.

Read about the other two success stories here.

Bruna Campos, EU Marine & Fisheries Policy Officer, BirdLife Europe

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