“Success is no accident. It is hard work, preserverence, learning and studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing.”
Unknown author

Here you can see the progress of our work, what have we achieved and what is yet to come.


ACHIEVED RESULTS

FIELDWORK RESEARCH

PREPARATORY ACTIONS

  • Study visit to Malta – at the beginning of the project BIOM and PI Nature park Lastovo islands staff visited Malta and were trained in surveys & rat eradication/control.
  • Testing tagging of seabirds – Tags were deployed on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta’s largest colony for testing the devices. Testing showed these specific tags are not ideal for tagging during incubation because the battery quickly drains without frequent charging through the built-in solar panel. However, data was successfully collected during the chick-rearing when the birds fly out at sea during the day. The 3 tagged Yelkouans in Malta, traveled as far as the Gulf of Gabes, Tunisia, and to the south of Italy.
  • Systematic mapping of colonies & assessment of colony sizeIsland visits were carried out during the day and night to identify all existing shearwater colonies in the Lastovo Archipelago. Additionally, sound recorders were installed in remote locations and places that are difficult to monitor on foot (e.g. cliffs). Yelkouan shearwater was found breeding on 6 islands (incl. 1 previously unknown island), with over 300 breeding pairs recorded in 2020. Scopoli’s shearwater was found on 13 islands (incl. 2 previous unknown islands) with over 250 breeding pairs recorded in 2020. Sound recorders revealed the presence of both shearwater species in the Palagruža Archipelago, which is the first time for Yelkouan shearwater. Monitoring of Audouin’s gull is carried out each year again because the species changes its breeding locations in between breeding seasons. Overall the breeding population between 2019 and 2021 was around 30-35 pairs, spread over 2 to 6 islands annually. All seabird colonies and the locations of their nests have been mapped and included in a comprehensive GIS database.
  • Assessment of reproductive output on major seabird coloniesDuring 2019, all seabird colonies were surveyed between March and September to assess the breeding output of each of the three species, which will serve as baseline data for measuring the impact of the conservation efforts. The breeding success for Yelkouan shearwater was 35%, for Scopoli’s shearwater 44-47%, and for Audouin’s gull 2%. During the process, all reachable chicks were ringed and weighted.
  • Marine litter threat assessment – from 2019 to 2021, a total of four monitoring actions of marine litter were conducted on selected beaches and the sea surface. Monitoring of marine litter on the beaches was conducted on the Sito, Kremena, and Saplun beach, while monitoring of marine litter on the sea surface was conducted according to the given transects, from southeast to southwest, in the direction perpendicular to the coast of Lastovo island. During each monitoring, different data about marine litter was documented like its type, origin, and dimensions. Additionally, the total weight of marine litter collected on the beaches was also documented. (Report Summary)
  • Assessment of mammal predation impact on colonies reproductive outputWith the help of camera traps and wax blocks, as well as by searching for rat feaces and bitemarks, all islands with seabird colonies were monitored for the presence of ship rats. Rats are present on all islands with breeding shearwaters, and in several colonies rat predation of eggs and chicks was observed for both shearwater species. Islands with breeding Audouin’s gull had rats present in some cases, but not always. Although interactions between rats and Audouin’s gull were observed, we did not record any eggs or chicks being predated. Instead, Yellow-legged gulls seems to have a bigger impact on them.
  • Assessment of impact of Yellow-legged gull on Audouin’s gullduring the course of the project we documented several cases of predation of Audouin’s gull chicks by Yellow-legged gulls with camera traps.
  • Feasibility study for invasive mammals’ eradication at seabird colonies on Sušac –  BL Malta and Dr. Karen Varnham participated in fieldwork on Lastovo to assess the potential ground-based eradication of introduced ship rats from Sušac Island. Sušac is one of the islands in Croatia where both shearwater species are known to breed and rats pose a threat to them by ways of nest predation. The remoteness of the island make it attractive for such a project since, once eradicated, rats are very unlikely to re-invade. The overall conclusion of the study is that a ground-based eradication is possible, on the condition that a few remaining outstanding issues are resolved. The final report lists several recommendations on how to go forward with such a project in the future.

CONSERVATION ACTIONS

  • Reducing the impact of fishing activities on seabirds – According to current knowledge seabird bycatch is not entirely negligible, and most often occurs after throwing demersal longlines into the sea, before the bait sinks or when birds get entangled in a net or trap. European Shag and Yellow-legged gull are the most common species to end up as bycatch, but also Yelkouan and Scopoli’s shearwater are bycaught according to the LEK study on seabird bycatch. In 2022, we will test three types of mitigation measures, namely: demersal longlines with extra lead, hookpoods for pelagic longlines and LED lights for gillnets.
  • Ship rat population control on islands with seabird coloniesRat eradication and control are currently still ongoing activities. As of 2019 rats have been successfully removed from Smokvica, Srednji Vlašnik and Gornji Vlašnik (important sites for Audouin’s gull), as well as Gornji and Srednji Lukovac (important for Scopoli’s shearwater). Furthermore rat populations are also being controlled on Veli and Mali Maslovnjak, Veli and Mali Rutvenjak and Zaklopatica (all important sites for both shearwater species). Rat eradication was also attempted on Pod Kopište, but turned out unsuccessful.
  • Audouin’s Gull breeding habitat improvementIn 2019, Yellow-legged gull eggs from 151 nests were pierced on the island of Smokvica. Nevertheless, the breeding success of the 23 pairs of Audouin’s gull on the island was 0%, and predation by Yellow-legged gull was observed. During 2020, Yellow-legged gull eggs were pierced again on Smokvica (225 nests), but also on the neighbouring islands of Srednji Vlašnik (155 nests) and Gornji Vlašnik (148 nests). This year, however, no Audouin’s gull ended up breeding on the island as well. It was therefore decided to drop the measure of egg piercing from 2021 onwards.
  • Sea transects to map at-sea distribution of seabird speciesFor 2 years, during each month between March and October, 12 sea transects were conducted within a 9 nautical miles radius around the Lastovo Nature Park. A total of 192 sea transects was completed and each bird observation was noted down and the location mapped with GPS. The obtained at-sea distribution data will be used to complement the seabird tracking dat, which is used for designating new marine IBAs (SPAs) in Croatia.
  • Seabird tracking – Between 2019 and 2021 a total of 43 adult Yelkouan Shearwater and 41 Scopoli’s Shearwater were tracked during the chick rearing phase of the breeding season, using GPS UHF devices; Furthermore, 25 Audouin’s Gull and 20 Yellow-Legged Gull were tracked using GPS GSM devices. These data, together with those obtained through the sea transects, will be used for designating new marine IBAs (SPAs) in Croatia.

MONITORING OF THE IMPACT OF THE PROJECT ACTIONS

  • Effects of conservation measures on seabird populations – The eradication and control of rats on several important seabird colonies in the Lastovo Archipelago resulted in an increase of the overall breeding success for Yelkouan (2019: 35% vs 2020: 72-80% vs 2021: 73-79%) and Scopoli’s shearwaters (2019: 44-47% vs 2020: 49-53% vs 2021: 63-65%), whereas the breeding success of Audouin’s gull continues to fluctuate (2019: 2% vs 2020: 20% vs 2021: 10%).
  • Plant community composition and abundance survey survey was implemented on 10 islands with the purpose of monitoring of impacts on ecosystem functions; inventory of flora and vegetation survey were conducted in order to have baseline data before the eradication of rats; the same will be repeated after the eradication; while each island has different floral elements, the majority of them is covered with forest or shrubs (macchia, mattoral), while the most remote islands (Vrhovnjaci) have a grassy coverage.
  • Lizard community composition and abundance surveysurvey was implemented on 10 islands with the purpose of monitoring of impacts on ecosystem functions; the survey was conducted in order to have baseline data before the eradication of rats; the same will be repeated after the eradication; 4 islands without recorded rat presence were used as control; the methodology used is the distance sampling with the method of linear transect where the researcher walks alongside the imaginary transect and counts number of lizards and their distance from the linear transect in order to assess the population abundance.

DISSEMINATION OF PROJECT RESULTS

  • BIOM attended the biosecurity workshop of LIFE PanPuffinus in Rochefort, France, during which it presented the LIFE Artina project and its first results. The workshop provided also a good opportunity to network with other organizations that work on similar topics across the Mediterranean. 
  • LIFE Networking visits are planned for 2022 with LIFE Diomedee in Italy and Biosecurity for LIFE in the UK.

MEETINGS AND EVENTS

PUBLICATIONS

OTHER

EXPECTED RESULTS

  • A complete estimate of the sea population of the Yelkouan Shearwater, Audouin’s Gull and Scopoli’s Shearwater, identifying important areas for feeding and resting on the sea.
  • Estimation of the presence and level of terrestrial and marine threats to seabird populations (predators, competition with other species, marine litter, disturbance by visitors, by catch in fishing gear etc.).
  • Individual tracking of 40 Scopoli’s Shearwater, 40 Yelkouan Shearwater and 15 Audoin’s Gull using remote sensing (data loggers, UHF radio transmitters and satellite transmitters).
  • Proclamation of marine SPAs based on data obtained and submitted to competent institutions.
  • Improvement of Management Plan for Nature Park Lastovo Islands/SPA Lastovsko otočje with a specific framework for monitoring of marine birds.
  • Monitoring of the relevant fishery fleet (at least 10%) operating in the project area to estimate the level of bycatch.
  • Mitigation methods implemented by at least 10% of relevant fishing fleets.
  • Publication and distribution of good practice guidelines for marine birds, with emphasis on rules of behavior when encountering marine birds for tourists, tourist boat owners and fishermen.
  • Control of Yellow-legged Gull population at two locations where they overlap with the Audouin’s Gull population.
  • Eradication of ship rats on remote islets where seabirds nest in the Nature Park Lastovo Islands/SPA Lastovsko otočje.
  • Black rat population controlled on the islets located near the inhabited places in Nature Park Lastovo Islands/SPA Lastovsko otočje.
  • Organized Conference on conservation of marine birds in the Mediterranean, the designation of the marine areas of the Natura 2000 ecological network and cross-border cooperation.
  • Developed birdwatching offer for visitors of Nature Park Lastovo Islands/SPA Lastovsko otočje.
  • Developed and installed educational-interpretation path on seabirds in the Nature Park Lastovo Islands/SPA Lastovsko otočje.
  • Developed and implemented educational programme on seabirds for the children on the islands Vis, Lastovo, Korčula.
  • Developed and implemented a series of seabird awareness rising public events on Vis and Lastovo (exhibition on seabirds, night of Albatros, coastal and underwater cleaning actions).