Seabirds such as the sandwich tern, guillemot and razorbill are an important part of the North Sea and Wadden Sea ecosystems. Wageningen Marine Research monitors these bird populations through ship-based surveys and transmitter and camera research. Our researchers also operate in the Dutch Caribbean and polar regions. Through our work, we contribute to insight in migration routes, foraging behaviour and the protection of endangered species.

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Caribbean seabirds

Seabirds have qualities that are essential to Caribbean ecosystems and play an important role as predators within the pelagic food chains. Wageningen Marine Research studies these bird populations using data made available through Citizen Science databases, and conducts modelling research to estimate population sizes. Our experts also unlock poorly accessible seabird records by collecting and mapping these data. In this way, we contribute to knowledge about habitats, species, migration routes and foraging behaviour. These insights and scenario modelling help our Caribbean partners in making policy and protection choices for the future and provides a basis for setting up more structural monitoring initiatives.

Database with over 150,000 observation data

The size of the existing seabird populations is reasonably well known, but little is known about how Caribbean seabirds use the offshore areas. This requires the compilation of data from all available studies; a research priority for both EEZ conservation and management purposes. In the project 'Caribbean Pelagic Seabird Map', Wageningen Marine Research has collected many older, but unpublished seabird records around the Dutch Caribbean islands, the Eastern Caribbean and many poorly accessible seabird records for the waters off Colombia and Venezuela. This provided more than 150,000 observation records with exact or estimated positions.

This database provides information on the temporal occurrence and positions of 65 nominal species and 13 larger familial or generic species groups in the Caribbean Basin. With all these data, different dimensions of seabird distribution can be studied and published. Possible angles for further research are:

Sandwich terns on Texel

Each spring, some 12,000 sandwich sterns breed in the Dutch Wadden Sea. Hatchlings are ringed since 2014, allowing the birds to be tracked throughout their lifetime. In 2020 we equipped 15 sandwich terns with GPS-trackers to discover where they forage at sea. We also use cameras to register their diving. By monitoring behaviour, we can see what effect sand nourishment has on the sandwich tern population in the Wadden Sea.

Arctic seabirds

Rob van Bemmelen spent five years studying colonies and migration routes of the red and the red-necked phalarope, arctic skuas and long-tailed skuas in the northernmost parts of Norway and Sweden. The birds were equipped with geolocators. Some red-necked phalaropes travelled as far as 10,000 kilometres between their breeding grounds in the polar circle and their winter habitat on the ocean! Rob kept a blog on his now completed PhD study.

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