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RESULTS – Life Artina

“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 our activities, how our work is progressing, what we have achieved so far, and what still awaits us!

*Note: All documents can be downloaded from the Downloads page!

PREPARATORY ACTIVITIES

A.1. Field research to gather initial data on seabird colonies, assess their size, and measure nesting success in the project area

  • Systematic mapping of colonies by ship and land-based survey
    • Islands within the project area were surveyed both day and night to identify all existing shearwater colonies. Sound recorders were also placed in remote and difficult-to-reach places (e.g., cliffs).
  • Systematic assessment of colony sizes
    • Nesting sites of Yelkouan Shearwater were recorded on 6 islands (including 1 previously unknown island), with over 300 breeding pairs documented in 2020. Nesting sites of Scopoli’s Shearwater were recorded on 13 islands (including 2 previously unknown islands), with over 250 pairs documented in 2020. The presence of both shearwater species (Scopoli’s and Yelkouan) was discovered on the Palagruža archipelago, marking the first record of Yelkouan Shearwater on that island. Monitoring of the Audoin’s Gull is conducted annually as this species changes its nesting location between breeding seasons. The total breeding population between 2019 and 2021 was around 30-35 pairs, distributed across 2 to 6 islands each year. All seabird colonies and nesting sites were mapped and included in an extensive GIS database.
  • Assessment of nesting success in main seabird colonies
    • During 2019, all seabird colonies were studied between March and September to assess the reproductive success of each of the three species. The data collected will serve as a basis for measuring the effectiveness of conservation measures. The reproductive success of the Yelkouan Shearwater was 35%, Scopoli’s Shearwater 44-47%, and for the Audouin’s Gull only 2%. All captured chicks were ringed and weighed during the process.

A.2. Research to assess and quantify relevant threats to seabirds at sea

Fishing impacts on seabirds indirectly through competition for prey/catch and directly through incidental bycatch on fishing gear. Incidental bycatch in longline fishing is the most critical global threat to many seabird species, especially long-lived pelagic species like shearwaters. Due to the lack of published information, the extent of seabird bycatch in the Croatian part of the Adriatic is currently unknown. For this research, the fishing fleet and gear with potential impact on seabirds were analyzed in the POP Lastovo Archipelago and POP Pelagic Islands ecological network areas, as well as surrounding fishing areas. Longlines and static nets were identified as gear with the highest potential for accidental seabird bycatch. (Technical report in Croatian)

  • Assessment of interactions between fishing and seabirds
    • The impact of fishing activities on seabirds was assessed through 29 questionnaires with fishermen in Komiža (Vis), Vela Luka (Korčula), and Lastovo between 2019 and 2020. These areas were recognized as places where fishermen use gear with the highest potential for accidental seabird bycatch, such as static (bottom-set) longlines and static nets, within the project focus areas – POP Lastovo Archipelago and POP Pelagic Islands. In 2021, it was established that floating longlines are also used in the project area, and an additional 3 questionnaires were conducted with fishermen using this gear. The results showed that accidental seabird bycatch on fishing gear is not negligible, occurring most often after setting longlines in the sea, before the bait sinks, or when birds get entangled in nets or lines. Cory’s Shearwater and Scopoli’s Shearwater were the most commonly caught species, but Yelkouan Shearwater and Mediterranean Gull were also caught. (Report in Croatian)
    • In Croatia, there is a legal obligation to report accidental bycatch. Although it was evident from questionnaires and conversations with fishermen that it occurred, no such incidents were recorded in fishing records/reports or during sea monitoring by scientific observers. Conclusions about the extent of accidental bycatch of sensitive species in Croatia can only be drawn after several years of high-quality data collected by fishermen and official observers. Similar projects in other countries revealed a range of experiences, activities, and measures related to reducing accidental seabird bycatch. Depending on whether they are related to fishing activities or fishing gear, measures to reduce accidental seabird bycatch (seabird bycatch mitigation measures) can be divided into two groups: a) adaptation and/or improvement of fishing practices, b) adaptation and/or improvement of fishing gear. (Report in Croatian)
  • Assessment of marine litter threat and identification of potential mitigation measures
    • Between 2019 and 2021, a total of four marine litter monitoring surveys were conducted on selected beaches and sea surface transects. Marine litter monitoring was carried out on the beaches Sito, Kremena, and Saplun, while marine litter monitoring on the sea surface followed predefined transects from the southeast to the southwest, perpendicular to the coast of the Lastovo Island. During the marine litter monitoring, the type, origin, and dimensions of the waste were recorded, and for beach marine litter, the total weight was additionally tracked. (Report in Croatian)
    • Monitoring the presence of marine litter is an essential part of assessing the extent and impact of waste on the marine ecosystem. With the aim of continuing the monitoring of marine litter after the completion of the LIFE Artina project, a Marine Litter Monitoring Plan for the Lastovo Islands Nature Park has been developed. Through detailed research and analysis, the plan encompasses the necessary steps for the future organization of marine litter monitoring in the Lastovo Islands Nature Park area. It presents concrete measures for its reduction and potential additional monitoring that was not conducted during the LIFE Artina project. The data from this monitoring could be valuable for obtaining a greater amount of information about this issue. (Plan in Croatian)

A.3. Field research conducted to assess and quantify all relevant threats to nesting colonies

  • Assessment of predation impact on nesting success within colonies
    • At the beginning of the project, employees of the BIOM association and JUPP Lastovo visited Malta where they learned about monitoring and control/eradication of rats. Location devices were placed on the Yelkouan shearwaters from the largest colony on Malta for testing purposes. Testing showed that these devices are not effective for tracking during incubation since the battery quickly drains without regular charging through the built-in solar panel. However, data was successfully collected during the hatching of chicks when adult birds leave for the sea during the day. Three marked Yelkouan shearwaters in Malta traveled all the way to the Gulf of Gabes in Tunisia and the south of Italy.
    • Using camera traps, wax blocks, and by searching for rat feces and bite marks, the presence of rats on all islands with seabird colonies was monitored. Rats are present on all islands with shearwater colonies, and in several colonies, rat predation on eggs and chicks of both shearwater species has been observed. On islands where the Audouin’s gull breeds, the presence of rats has been recorded in some cases, but not always. Although interactions between rats and the Audouin’s gull have been observed, rat predation on eggs or chicks has not been documented. Instead, it appears that yellow-legged gulls have a greater impact on them.
  • Assessment of the impact of the Yellow-legged Gull on the Yelkouan shearwarter in the Nature Park Lastovsko otočje
    • During the project, several cases of predation by Yellow-legged Gulls on Audouin’s Gull chicks were documented using camera traps.

A.4. Creation of a comprehensive GIS database for seabird colonies

A.5. Feasibility study for the eradication of invasive mammals on seabird colonies on Sušac Island within the Nature Park Lastovsko otočje

  • Report recommending rat eradication/control techniques on Sušac

The report ‘Report recommending rat eradication/control techniques on Sušac’ lays out the data collection steps required to develop an informed feasibility study for complete rat eradication on Sušac island.  The report also aims to identify any feasible methods to control rats around the shearwater colonies on islands in the Lastovo Archipelago with specific suggestions per island or island group. Suggestions are based on site visits carried out by the authors accompanied by BIOM staff during May 2019.  (Summary of the report in English)

  • Feasibility study for the removal of black rats Rattus rattus from the island of Sušac, Croatia

A feasibility study for a ground-based eradication of Rattus rattus (using rodenticide placed in closed bait stations) from the island of Sušac was carried out. (Report in English)

Eradicating rats from Sušac in a ground-based project is feasible but presents a number of logistical difficulties. These include the need for extensive climbing work to reach all vegetated areas of the island’s cliffs, the effort required to cut approx. 74 km of trails in order to lay out a grid of rodenticide bait stations and logistical issues around supporting a team of c. 20 people for around seven months on an island currently without suitable accommodation or fresh water. These are laid out in detail in the report.

In order to complement the above feasibility study on a ground-based approach, a short report following a field visit to assess the possibility of reaching the various cliff ledges was written up (Report in English).

In a separate study, the feasibility of an aerial approach (rodenticide bait dropped from a helicopter) was also explored. (Report in English)

In summary, both ground-based and aerial approaches are costed within LIFE funding which would ensure capacity for the project, but an aerial approach is less expensive and complex. Rat eradication of Sušac would greatly benefit the island ecosystem and especially its shearwater populations. Due to the large distance of the island to other islands is highly likely that the island can be maintained rat-free sustainably.

CONSERVATION MEASURES

C.1. Reduce the Impact of Fishing Activities on Seabirds through Identification and Promotion of Good Practice Examples

Reducing the impact of fishing activities on seabirds – The sporadic bycatch of seabirds and limited field knowledge on technical specifications and effectiveness of alternative fishing gear have been identified. Due to this reason, within the project framework, it was decided to test gear replacement with a small group of fishermen to evaluate the feasibility of applying these solutions in Croatia, considering the specificities of vessels, gear, and fishing methods. In 2022, testing of adapted fishing gear was conducted with fishermen, including: signal (LED) lights for stationary nets, additional weights for gillnets, and devices for underwater hook release on floating longlines (hookpods). The measure that was best evaluated and accepted by the fishermen is the use of weights on gillnets, as weights are the quickest, simplest, and easiest to use. No seabird bycatch occurred during gear testing. ( Report in Croatian, Report in English)

For these measures to be effective and ensure fishermen’s compliance, they should be simple, appropriate for each fishing type, cost-effective, practical, safe, and accompanied by economic or social incentives. Additionally, raising awareness among fishermen and other key stakeholders about seabird bycatch and their role in it is crucial. These activities have led to recommendations for reducing seabird bycatch (Recommendations in Croatian, Recommendations in English) as well as a policy brief on measures to reduce the impact of fishing activities on sensitive species of seabirds in Croatia (Policy brief in Croatian, policy brief in English).

C.2. Implement Effective Predator Management and/or Biosafety Measures at All Targeted Locations with Seabird Colonies Requiring Feasible Management

The eradication and control of rats are still ongoing. Since 2019, rats have been successfully removed from the islands of Smokvica, Srednji Vlašnik, and Gornji Vlašnik (important sites for Audouin’s Gull), as well as Gornji and Srednji Lukovac (important sites for Yellow-legged Gull). Furthermore, rat populations are also being managed on Veli and Mali Maslovnjak, Veli and Mali Rutvenjak, and Zaklopatica (all important sites for both shearwater species). Rat eradication was attempted on the island of Pod Kopište as well, but without success. (Protokol for erradication in English)

C.3. Improvement of Breeding Habitat for Audouin’s Gull

In 2019, on the island of Smokvica, eggs of Yellow-legged Gull from 151 nests were punctured. However, the reproductive success of 23 pairs of Audouin’s Gull on the island was 0%, and predation of Yellow-legged Gull on Audouin’s Gull was observed. During 2020, Yellow-legged Gull eggs were punctured again on the island of Smokvica (total of 225 nests), as well as on the neighboring islands of Srednji Vlašnik (155 nests) and Gornji Vlašnik (148 nests). Nonetheless, no Audouin’s Gulls nested on the island. Therefore, it was decided to discontinue the egg puncturing measure starting from 2021. (Report in English)

C.4. Distribution of Seabirds at Sea and Spatiotemporal Overlap with Fisheries

Over a period of 2 years, every month between March and October, a total of 12 marine transects were conducted within a 9 nautical mile radius around the Lastovo Islands Nature Park. A total of 192 marine transects were completed, with each observed bird recorded and its corresponding location marked using GPS. The obtained data on marine distribution will be used to supplement the seabird monitoring data used for designating new marine SPAs (Special Protection Areas) in Croatia.

During the visit to Malta in 2019, GPS devices were attached to Scopoli’s Shearwaters from the largest colony on the island for testing purposes. The testing revealed that these devices were not suitable for tagging during the incubation period, as the battery quickly drained without frequent recharging through the built-in solar panel. However, data was successfully collected during the chick-rearing phase when adult birds left for the sea during the day. Three tagged Scopoli’s Shearwaters from Malta journeyed as far as the Gulf of Gabes in Tunisia and the southern regions of Italy.

Between 2019 and 2021, a total of 43 adult Scopoli’s Shearwaters and 41 Yelkouan Shearwaters were tracked during the chick-rearing period using GPS UHF devices. Furthermore, 25 Mediterranean Gulls and 20 Audouin’s Gulls were tracked using GPS GSM devices. These data, along with those obtained through marine transects, will be utilized to determine new marine SPAs (SPA areas) in Croatia. (Report in English)

Additional analysis was conducted to determine the spatial distribution of seabirds in areas with an increased risk of accidental capture in the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea. It is not intended as a conclusive or comprehensive risk assessment for seabird bycatch, but rather as an exploratory analysis to inform decision makers on possible priorities in bycatch mitigation, and as a template for further analysis by conservation practitioners. (Report in English)

C.5. Designation of new marine SPAs (Special Protection Areas) in Croatia

In order to designate marine areas of special protection for birds (IBAs) in Croatia, systematic research was conducted through activities A1, C1, and C4 to collect data on the distribution of seabirds at sea and along the coast, as well as the distribution of their colonies. These data were statistically analyzed to define marine IBA areas, which were then entered into the BirdLife World Bird Database (WBDB). (IBA list)

C.6. Mitigating the impact of spatial users on seabird colony areas through influencing their behavior

  • Development and distribution of seabird-friendly behavior guidelines for tourists
  • Development and implementation of voluntary seabird-friendly behavior rules for boat operators
  • Development and distribution of seabird-friendly behavior guidelines for fishermen

MONITORING AND EVALUATION OF PROJECT ACTIVITIES’ IMPACT

D.1. Monitoring the Effect of Conservation Activities on Threats Directly Affecting Target Marine Bird Populations

  • Tracking the success of nesting for target species
  • Monitoring the impact of predators and competitors (Yellow-legged Gull and Audouin’s Gull)
  • Observing the influence of stakeholder engagement in the project area
  • Assessing the impact of measures to reduce incidental catch of seabirds during trawling

D.2. Public Attitudes Research at the Beginning and End of the Project to Measure Impact

To assess changes in perception and attitudes of the local population, an survey was conducted to gauge their awareness of the impacts and threats facing marine birds, gather impressions related to the implementation of project activities, determine any differences in attitudes between respondents who participated in project activities and those who did not, identify reasons for non-participation, and explore willingness to support future environmental protection projects. The research involved 103 respondents. (Baseline study report in Croatian, Final report in Croatian)

D.3. Monitoring Impact on Ecosystem Functions

Research on the composition and abundance of plant species was conducted on ten islands to monitor the impact on ecosystem functions. Plant surveys and vegetation images were collected to gather baseline data prior to rat eradication. This research will be repeated after the eradication for comparison purposes. Each visited island exhibited unique flora and vegetation characteristics, mostly covered with forests or shrublands, while the more remote islands (Vrhovnjaci) were characterized by grasslands. (Summary of the Baseline Report, Final report in Croatian)

Monitoring the composition and population of lizard species was carried out on ten islands to track the impact on ecosystem functions. This research aimed to establish baseline data before rat eradication and will be repeated post-eradication. Four islands without recorded rat presence were used as control sites. The methodology involved walking along imaginary transect lines, during which researchers counted lizards and measured their distance from the transect line to determine population numbers (Summary of the Baseline Study, Final report in Croatian).

D.4. Monitoring the socio-economic impact of project activities

AISING AWARENESS AND DISSEMINATING RESULTS

E.1. Advocating for the designation of marine SPAs in Croatia

E.2. Development and implementation of the project’s communication plan

  • Development of the LIFE Artina project communication plan
  • Development and distribution of communication tools/materials (Project poster and magnets)

E.3. LIFE Artina communication and awareness-strengthening events

E.4. Networking with Other LIFE Projects

A meeting of the Marine Task Force BirdLife International was held. (Program)

E.5. Dissemination of Project Results

  • Creation and Distribution of Relevant Reports and Papers
  • Replication of Project Results and Findings
    • For the purpose of replicating project results, a Strategy for Transfer and Replication has been developed. (Strategy)
  • Organization of the Project’s Final Conference
    • The final conference of the five-year project LIFE Artina – Network for the Conservation of Seabirds in the Adriatic was held in Donji Seget from May 9th to 11th, 2023. The conference brought together participants from the fields of nature conservation, fisheries, civil society organizations, governmental institutions, as well as regional and international experts who shared best international practices and lessons learned from the project, and discussed future efforts for conserving populations of Adriatic and Mediterranean seabirds. (Final Conference Program, the Book of Abstracts)


PROJECT MANAGEMENT

F.1. Project Management

F.2. Monitoring and Measurement of Project Indicators

F.3. Development of After-LIFE Plan