Monitoring of cliff-breeding birds
Seabirds make up an important part of the biota of polar seas, and Iceland is home to large seabird populations. For some seabirds, such as razorbills and puffins, Iceland's coasts are the species' main breeding grounds. The importance of seabirds in the Icelandic ecosystem and the international importance of Iceland as a breeding ground for these species mean that it is critical to keep close track of their numbers here. Iceland's location and the high level of marine research that takes place in Iceland's territorial waters make it an ideal place in which to research the effects of climate change on seabird populations. In spring 2006, the IINH, Marine Research Institute and the University of Iceland embarked on a major study of Iceland's cliff-breeding seabirds.
The first and only comprehensive study to investigate the number and distribution of Icelandic cliff-breeding birds, employing reproducible methods, took place in around 1985. At that time, 990,000 guillemot pairs (27% of all common guillemots in the North Atlantic), 580,000 Brünnich's guillemot pairs (11%), 380,000 razorbill pairs (65%) and 630,000 kittiwake pairs (20%) were reported as breeding in Iceland. These North Atlantic populations have seen considerable change over the last several decades, and increasing change has been predicted as a result of global climate change, which has an impact on feeding conditions. Auk and guillemot deaths during the winter due to starvation, particularly those in 2001-2002, and a plunging survival rate for many seabirds species in some years (such as the arctic tern, kittiwake and puffin in 2005) have received much attention, but nothing is known of the effect of this on the Icelandic breeding populations.
A committe working on behalf of The Ministry for the Environment published a report in January 2012 proposing a temporary ban of hunting and egg collection of all five species of the auk family in Iceland for at least five years. The report is available on the Ministry's web page (in Icelandic); Skýrsla starfshóps um verndun og endurreisn svartfuglastofna (pdf).
IINH Contact: Guðmundur A. Guðmundsson, in partnership with the University of Iceland and the Marine Research Institute