In Seget Donji from May 9 to 11, 2023, the final conference of the five-year project “LIFE Artina – Seabird Conservation Network in the Adriatic” was held.

The conference brought together participants from the fields of nature conservation, fisheries, civil society organizations, state institutions, and regional and international experts who shared the best international practices and lessons learned from the project, and discussed future efforts to preserve the population of Adriatic and Mediterranean seabirds.

Changes in the number of birds can clearly reveal where certain ecosystems are damaged, where the impact of climate change is strong, and where intervention in the protection and preservation of biodiversity is most needed. Around the world, thousands of birds are endangered, which is why their numbers are decreasing every day. In addition to them, the numerous habitats they use are also threatened, as a result of human activities. It is important to sustainably manage habitats, including migration routes, wintering grounds and feeding areas, to conserve their populations.

The main goal of the LIFE Artina project is to solve the key problems or threats, in the conservation of three seabird species in the Adriatic – the Audouin´s gull, Scopoli´s shearwater and Yelkouan shearwater, or artina (the name for shearwaters in local dialect on Lastovo).

Scopoli’s Shearwater (Author: Biljana Ječmenica)

Experts and enthusiasts from the Biom Association have been following the movements of these seabirds for many years and researching their colonies in the Lastovsko otočje Nature Park. After complex analyzes of their movements, areas at sea that are crucial for these birds were defined. These areas include areas south of Šolta and Brač all the way to Lastovo and east of Mljet, and also the area west of Istria, on the border with Italy.

During the three days of the conference, the participants discussed methods of monitoring the condition of seabirds, the involvement of local communities in the conservation of seabirds, the conservation of the Audouin’s gull, the eradication of rats on bird colonies, and the establishment and management of protected marine areas where the project was carried out.

Areas of importance for birds have been declared in Croatia

The LIFE Artina project will significantly contribute to the marine part of the EU’s Natura 2000 ecological network by soon declaring five new areas of importance for birds and expanding two existing Natura 2000 areas. Before the project, there were only two Natura 2000 ecological network areas for Scopoli´s shearwater and Yelkouan shearwater, and now there are seven! While there were three areas for the Audouin´s gull, now there are four. It is interesting that one of these areas is located right on the border with Italy, in the northern part of the Adriatic.

– After years of work, Croatia just gained its first five exclusively marine protected areas that have been declared important at-sea areas for endangered seabird species. With this, we have finally become a country that takes care of its seabirds both on their breeding islands and at sea. These new areas will soon become part of the ecological network Natura 2000, a network of protected areas of importance for the entire EU. With this, we will be one step closer to ensuring the long-term survival of our Scopoli’s shearwater and Yelkouan shearwater, birds that our fishermen know best and are happy to meet. – said Željka Rajković, project manager from the Biom Association.

Six times more Yelkouan shearwater and almost four times more Scopoli’s shearwater in 2022

The project significantly contributed to improving the state of conservation of two species of seabirds – Scopoli’s shearwater and Yelkouan shearwater. This success is observed in both the number of breeding pairs as well as their nesting success. We recorded six times as many Yelkouan shearwaters and almost four times as many Scopoli’s shearwaters in 2022 compared to 2019. While this is partially the result of more thorough efforts to locate their nests, it is also due to our conservation work (primarily the eradication of rats) which helped improve breeding conditions on their colonies. Furthermore, nesting success of Yelkouan shearwater more than doubled during the project, and increased by more than 10% for Scopoli’s shearwater.

– Conditions on the ground vary a lot and it is often very difficult to estimate the size of the breeding population because it happens that many birds are in that location, but not all individuals are nesting. It would be better to monitor the survival rate of reproductively active birds because such information is more helpful to understand the trend and the status of the population. – Sven Kapelj, Association Biom.

Audouin’s Gull (Author: L. Jurinović)

– Audouin´s gulls are endangered, but they adapt to changes in their environment much better than we think. However, this does not mean that we should not protect them or reduce the threats that are recognized as the biggest problem in their preservation. – Daniel Oro, CEAB-CSIC.

The LIFE Artina project has significantly contributed to the understanding of the status and threats to three endangered species of birds – Yelkouan shearwater, Scopoli’s shearwater and Audouin’s gull. The threats that these seabirds face are predation by rats, accidental catch in fishing gear, marine litter, competition between the Audouin’s gull and the many times more numerous yellow-legged gull for the same habitat

Eradication of rats from large (inhabited) islands

On the topic Eradication of rats from large (inhabited) islands, the story of successes but also challenges in the implementation of activities to remove rats from the islet of Zaklopatica in Croatia as part of the LIFE Artina project was presented.

– Although the results of the recovery of the Yelkouan shearwater population are significant, the implementation was not without challenges. Considering the proximity of most of the breeding colonies to Lastovo, the issue of sustainability, i.e. keeping the islands rat-free, remains a big challenge for future planning and work on the preservation of the species in Croatia. – said Dries Engelen, Biom Association.

A study on the feasibility of eradication, carried out on the island of Sušac as part of LIFE Artina, in cooperation with experts from Malta, Italy and the UK, was presented.

– Rat eradication on Sušac was found to be feasible and successful implementation is likely to be sustainable in the long term due to the island being uninhabited and relatively far from other islands. An aerial baiting approach was found to be less expensive and complex compared to a ground based approach but requires legislative and community support. Challenges to the operation are represented by livestock that is not under control and the unknown conservation status of the wood mouse population (which can be taken in ex situ during the operation if desired). The permanent removal of rats on Sušac is expected to greatly benefit the island ecosystem, shearwaters and other species such as the Eleonora’s falcon. – Martin Austad, Birdlife Malta.

Audouin’s Gull egg eaten by a rat, Author: Martin Austad

Education of fishermen and local population

With the LIFE Artina project, Sunce, in cooperation with fishermen from the islands of Brač, Vis, Korčula, Lastovo and Vinišće, tested measures for the use of adapted fishing tools, i.e. signal (LED) lights for mooring nets, additional weighting for bottom longlines and devices for releasing the hooks of floating longlines under the sea (hookpods).

– Bycatch of seabirds occurs. This is the opinion of fishermen and institutions, however, the amount of data is insufficient to determine whether it occurs often or rarely. – said Ana Miletić from Sunce.

– In Spain, for example, bycatch is significant in the Mediterranean, on 4,000 sets of demersal longlines monitored through self-reporting logbooks filled by fishers, about 1,150 shearwaters were caught as bycatch, including Balearic, Yelkouan and Scopoli’s shearwaters, but only about 20 Audouin’s gulls. It is really important that we work to reduce this threat in collaboration with fishers and to raise their awareness. – Paulo Lago, SEO.

Educating children living on the islands of Vis, Korčula and Lastovo about the endangered Adriatic albatrosses (Scopoli’s shearwater, Yelkouan shearwater, and Audouin’s gull) is also one of the goals of the LIFE Artina project.

– If we want to remove or reduce threats, in addition to research, education and involvement of the local community are key. Through this project, we collaborated with eight educational institutions, during which we conducted 76 educational workshops and excursions for 230 children. – said Zrinka Jakl, president of Sunce.

– Changing the mindset and awareness of the local community is slow, as is administration and legislation. But nature waits and is a little impatient. To succeed in this, we must be persistent, and by cooperating and pointing out examples of good practice through projects like this, success will come. – added Zrinka Jakl, Sunce.

– It is not easy to involve the community, but relationships can be built for mutual benefit. Often it is beneficial to get involved in community activities outside of the immediate work role to earn community trust. Along the way, every small victory is important and should be celebrated. – added Jaclyn Pearson, Wildlife Trust UK.

Group photo of participants (Author: M. Glavinić)

The final conference of the LIFE Artina project was a unique opportunity for all participants to jointly find solutions for the preservation of seabirds and to contribute to the preservation of the natural resources of the Mediterranean Sea. Experiences were exchanged with experts and recommendations for the conservation of seabirds in the Adriatic and the Mediterranean were made jointly. If you meet these magnificent shearwaters on your sea trip in Croatia and witness how they elegantly fly, rest on the surface of the sea or dive into the depths to feed, enjoy the view and do not disturb them. Their survival also depends on all of us!