South Georgia Newsletter, August 2012
South Georgia has been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) as part of the BirdLife programme to identify, protect and manage sites that are significant for the long-term viability of bird populations.
South Georgia is estimated to have more than 100 million individual seabirds based on the island and is described in the journal ‘British Birds’ as “one of the world's most important seabird islands.”
The designation of South Georgia as an IBA in ‘British Birds’ came in a paper by Andy Clarke (BAS) and colleagues.
IBAs are places of international significance for the conservation of birds and biodiversity and are recognised world-wide as practical tools for conservation. An IBA must be a distinct area amenable to practical conservation action. The IBA programme has identified more than 10,000 sites world-wide that form a network of areas essential to ensure the survival of bird species across their ranges.
South Georgia has 29 species of breeding bird, and is the world's most important breeding site for six species: macaroni penguin (1,000,000 breeding pairs); grey-headed albatross (77,436 breeding pairs); northern giant petrel (4,310 breeding pairs); Antarctic prion (22,000,000 breeding pairs); white-chinned petrel (2,000,000 breeding pairs); and the common diving petrel (3,800,000 breeding pairs). It is also probably a very important breeding area for seven others bird species: king penguin; gentoo penguin; wandering albatross; black-browed albatross; southern giant petrel; black-bellied storm-petrels; and the South Georgia diving petrel.
According to the abstract for the new paper, “Several of these species are globally threatened or near-threatened, which enhances the importance of South Georgia and emphasises the need for action to improve the conservation status of its birds.” South Georgia is currently classified as a single IBA but further research may lead to it being considered as several distinct IBAs.
Despite currently being home to 100 million birds, it would have been home to a vast number more before the introduction of rats. A programme of rodent eradication through the South Georgia Heritage Trust’s (SGHT) Habitat Restoration Programme was started in the summer of 2010/11 and is due to continue for the next two summer seasons.
Birds on South Georgia currently face various threats including rodents, climate change and incidental mortality in less well managed fisheries outside the SG zone. Incidental bird mortality in the South Georgia fisheries is almost nil, but South Georgia albatrosses and petrels are still killed in large numbers in more distant fisheries.
Impact on bird populations by rodents and fisheries mortalities can still be tackled but, as the paper’s abstract states, “there is probably little that can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change."
For more facts and figures about the astounding numbers of breeding birds on South Georgia visit BirdLife’s website here.