Australia

Climate change blamed for decline in Australian seabirds

Seabirds are critical in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. (AAP)

A 17-year study has found seabirds are declining off the coast of southeast Australia, likely because of warming ocean temperatures.

More than a dozen species of seabirds are in decline off Australia's southeast coast, new research has found.

The study by UNSW and based on data collected by birdwatchers revealed sightings of almost half the 30 most abundant seabirds - including the wandering albatross and flesh-footed shearwater - had fallen over a 17-year period between 2000 and 2016.

Sightings of almost half Australia's most abundant seabirds, including the wandering albatross, have fallen.
Sightings of almost half Australia's most abundant seabirds, including the wandering albatross, have fallen.
Ardea Picture Library

Seabirds are critical in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems, acting as predators that feed on a range of prey.

"Our findings are worrying, not just because 13 of our more common species are declining, but because we don't know for sure what is driving these declines," lead author and University of NSW honours student Simon Gorta said.

Researchers at the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science suggest that warming ocean temperatures are likely contributing to the trend.

The east Australian current has strengthened off the country's southeast, which has led to warmer and less productive waters in the region. That is potentially driving birds to hunt elsewhere, Mr Gorta said.

The 17-year study was based on data collected from avid bird watchers.
The 17-year study was based on data collected from avid bird watchers.
AAP

"We can predict that as surface temperatures increase with climate change, we will be seeing fewer species that prefer cooler-than-average surface temperatures," he said.

The research, published in the international scientific journal Biological Conservation, was based on data collected by birdwatchers who go out to sea almost monthly.

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