International Council for the Exploration of the Sea
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Seabirds as Monitors of the Marine Environment

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Version 2 2023-06-29, 09:36
Version 1 2022-01-18, 15:53
posted on 2023-06-29, 09:36 authored by Mark L. Tasker, Robert W. Furness

This is the third ICES Cooperative Research Report produced by the Working Group on Seabird Ecology, following on from Reports on seabird/fish interactions (ICES Cooperative Research Report No. 216) and the diets of seabirds and the consequences of changes in food supply (ICES Cooperative Research Report No. 232). This ICES Cooperative Research Report focuses on the use that might be made of seabirds as monitors of the marine environment.

Section 2 examines the possibilities of using seabirds to monitor marine pollution, and recommends that they be used in monitoring a variety of substances. These recommendations are further developed in Section 5. Subsequent to this work, several of these recommendations have been developed for possible use as Ecological Quality Objectives (EcoQOs) under OSPAR and the North Sea Conference process. Ministers from around the North Sea adopted an objective in relation to the proportion of oiled common guillemots found dead or dying on beaches that “the proportion of such birds should be 10% or less of the total found dead or dying, in all areas of the North Sea (Bergen Declaration). In addition, Ministers requested that work continue towards defining EcoQOs in relation to mercury concentrations in seabird eggs and feathers, organochlorine concentrations in seabird eggs and plastic particles in the stomachs of seabirds. These decisions demonstrate the usefulness of seabirds in this area.

Section 3 describes the sensitivity of seabird populations to changes in life history parameters. Understanding in this area is necessary in order to fully appreciate the nature of threats that apply at only one part of seabird’s life style and is important in designing monitoring programmes. This is further discussed in Section 5.3. Fishing is arguably the greatest human influence on the marine environment. Fishing can have both direct and indirect effects on seabird populations (Tasker et al., 2000). The cumulative effects of these effects will show at the seabird community level and are examined in section 4.
The design of monitoring programmes is further explored in Section 5, while Section 6 describes the relatively new topic of the interaction between aquaculture and birds in the ICES area.
As with all work within the ICES Working Group structure, many individuals contribute to the group’s products. All those who participated in the relevant meetings of the Working Group on Seabird Ecology are listed overleaf. 


  • Seabirds as monitors of marine pollution - Peter H. Becker, Robert W. Furness, and Mark L. Tasker.
  • Review of the sensitivity of seabird populations to changes in life history parameters  - Robert W. Furness, Peter H. Becker, Ummo Hüppop, and Gail Davoren.
  • The alteration of the composition of seabird communities by fisheries - Mark L. Tasker, Kees Camphuysen, Stefan Garthe, and Tycho Anker-Nilssen.
  • Further development of seabird monitoring - Peter H. Becker and Gilles Chapdelaine.
  • Review of the interactions between aquaculture and birds in the ICES Area - Robert W. Furness.


Published under the auspices of the following ICES Expert Group or Strategic Initiative



ICES Cooperative Research Reports (CRR)







Recommended citation

Tasker, M. L., and Furness, R. W. (Eds.). 2003. Seabirds as Monitors of the Marine Environment . ICES Cooperative Research Report, Vol. 258. 83 pp.

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