Marine Important Bird Areas Programme in India
India has one of the longest shorelines in the world and many marine species of birds are found in the Indian seas and on the coastal areas.
Today out of 22 species of albatrosses distributed across the oceans of the globe, 18 are threatened with extinction. The greatest threats being by catch by long-line fishing and predation risk by invasive alien species in their breeding sites. As many as 300,000 seabirds are being caught on the hook yearly. Hence, international cooperation was found to be essential in the conservation of marine bird species. Unfortunately, we do not have much data on the bird mortality-as-bycatch by long-line fishing in Indian ocean territory.
BirdLife International’s mission is to conserve wild birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, by working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. BirdLife’s strategy to achieve this mission integrates species, site and habitat conservation with sustaining human needs and is implemented by the BirdLife Partnership in over 100 countries including India. The site-based component of this approach, the Important Bird Area (IBA) Programme, complements other programmes that focus on species and habitats. Overall, the IBA programme is a method of identifying the most significant places on earth for birds. These sites called IBAs can then form the basis for more detailed conservation planning, and the focus for practical advocacy, action and monitoring.
Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are identified using a standardized set of data-driven criteria and thresholds (see Rule 1). As such, they ensure that the approach can be used consistently worldwide. When originally devised they were intended for application only in Europe as they were designed to be compatible with European Union legislation. Following the success of the approach in Europe, and the subsequent decision to extend the programme worldwide, it was apparent that there were numerous benefits like ease of understanding and usage, comparative analyses, power of justification and advocacy to adopting a standardized approach. It should be noted that sites may qualify for multiple categories and criteria (see Rule Box 1). To date only A1 and A4 have been applied for sea-birds, the possibility (and benefits) of the application of A2 and A3 is currently being explored.
Rule 1: Categories and criteria used to select IBAs at the global level. Sites may qualify for multiple categories and criteria. To date only A1 and A4 have been applied for seabirds, the possibility (and benefits) of the application of A2 and A3 is currently being explored.
Category A1- Globally Threatened Species
The site regularly holds significant numbers of a globally threatened species, or other species of global conservation concern.
The site qualifies if it is known, estimated or thought to hold a population of a species categorized on the IUCN Red List as globally threatened (Critical, Endangered and Vulnerable). The list of globally threatened species is maintained and updated annually by BirdLife International.
Category A2 – Restricted-range Species
The site is known or thought to hold a significant component of the group of species whose breeding distributions define an Endemic Bird Area (EBA) or Secondary Area (SA).
Endemic Bird Areas are defined as places where two or more species of restricted-range, defined as those whose global breeding distributions are of less than 50,000 km2 , occur together –see Sttattersfield et al (1998). A Secondary Area (SA) supports one or more restricted-range species, but does not qualify as an EBA because fewer than two species are entirely confined to it.
Category A3 – Biome-restricted Assemblages
The site is known or thought to hold a significant component of the group of species whose distributions are largely or wholly confined to one biome. Biome-restricted assemblages are groups of species with largely shared distributions which occurs mostly or entirely within all or part of a particular biome.
Category A4 – Congregations
- Site known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, > 1% of a biogeographic population of a congregatory waterbird species.
- Site known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, > 1% of the global population of a congregatory seabird or terrestrial species
- Site known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, > 20,000 waterbirds or > 10,000 pairs of seabirds of one or more species
- Site known or thought to exceed thresholds set for migratory species at bottleneck sites
Background to marine IBAs
Although the identification stage of the Important Bird Area programme is currently approaching completion in terrestrial (including inland and coastal wetland) environments, the process is still at an early stage in the marine realm. The process of identification of marine IBAs has already been completed in many countries like Portugal, Australia, Japan and many European, African, South-East Asian and South American countries. In India we have identified 466 terrestrial IBAs using the IBA criteria. Extending the IBA programme to the oceans, while a logical and significant development, has posed both conceptual and practical challenges.
IBAs have formed a significant scientific reference in most of the countries and even in India they are getting recognised as priority sites for conservation. It is therefore appropriate that the IBA selection criteria should be reviewed and, as necessary, adapted (and guidelines developed for their application), in order to use them to identify marine IBAs in India.
Rule 2: The four ‘ types’ of marine IBAs recognized by Osieck (2004) that include the different aspects of seabirds at-sea activities that may be amenable to site-based conservation approaches. It should be noted that there is some overlap between non-breeding (coastal) congregations and areas for pelagic species which are continuations of a theme.
Seaward extensions to breeding colonies
While many seabird breeding colonies have already been identified as IBAs, their boundaries have been , in almost all cases, confirmed to the land on which the colonies are located. The boundaries of these sites can, in many cases, be extended to include those parts of the marine environment which are used by the colony for feeding, maintenance behaviours and social interactions. Such extensions are limited by the foraging range, depth and/or habitat preferences of the species concerned. The seaward boundary is, as far as possible, colony and/or species-specific, based on known or estimated foraging and maintenance behavior.
Non-breeding (coastal) concentrations
These include sites, usually in coastal areas, which hold feeding and moulting concentrations of waterbirds, such as divers, grebes and benthos-feeding ducks. They could also refer to coastal feeding areas for auks, shearwaters, etc.
These include sites whose geographic position means that seabirds fly over or round in the course of regular migration. These sites are normally determined by topographic features, such as headlands and straits.
Areas for pelagic species
These sites comprise marine areas remote from land at which pelagic seabirds regularly gather in large numbers, whether to feed or for other purposes. These areas usually coincide with specific oceanographic features, such as shelf-breaks, eddies and upwellings, and their biological productivity is invariably high.
Types of marine IBAs
Osieck (2004) recognised four types of marine IBAs (see Rule 2) that include different aspects of seabirds at-sea activities that may be amenable to site-based conservation approaches. It should be noted that there is some overlap between non-breeding (coastal) congregations and areas for pelagic species which are continuations of a theme.
First Marine IBA workshop in India:
A workshop on the Marine IBAs was held at Hornbill House, Bombay Natural History Society on 28 September 2010 and a select group of biologists working in the marine environs of India attended this workshop. This workshop aimed at developing the strategies and future action plan towards identification of Marine IBAs in Indian geographical limits.
It was decided to prepare a list of marine bird species of India with their IUCN status and then gather the published data on marine birds of India. We will organise another workshop to identify marine IBAs in India in a couple of months and publish the data.
Previously, a consultation workshop on conservation of Marine Species for development of Species recovery plans and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in India was organized by Wildlife Institute of India on 6-7 March 2009 (WII, 2009). This workshop resulted into a list of proposed Marine Protected Areas in India. The MPAs include: Porbandar Marine Conservation Reserve, Gujarat; Andra Flat off Sindhudurg Fort, Maharashtra; Netrani or Pigeon Island, Karnataka; Vypin-Fort Kochi, Kerala; Agatti, Lakshadweep and Palk Bay in Tamil Nadu.
Some Marine and Coastal Protected Areas in India
Following areas are declared as Protected Areas by the state department of forests and some by the Government of India. Car Nicobar, Charakla Salt Works (it is private), Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary and Godavari estuary, Great Nicobar, Little Nicobar, Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, Jarawa Reserve (Middle Andaman and South Andaman), Little Andaman, Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (Wandoor National Park), Marine National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (Jamnagar), Narcondam Island Wildlife Sanctuary, North and South Sentinel, North Reef Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Pitti Island, Rani Jhansi Marine National Park, Saltpans of Bhavnagar and Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve (National Park).
Request for data on Marine birds:
We request marine biologists and ornithologists working on marine birds to join Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN) and share their information with us. It will help in the identification of marine IBAs in India. We will appreciate scientists joining this Network and help for the conservation of marine birds in the Indian seas. The data shared will be acknowledged in all publications.