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Beached Bird Surveys in the North Sea as an Instrument to Measure Levels of Chronic Oil Pollution

Part of the The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry book series (HEC,volume 41)

Abstract

Seabirds are particularly sensitive to marine oil pollution. Systematic surveys of beach-cast corpses of birds (‘beached bird surveys’) not only document the adverse effects of oil pollution on wild birds but are particularly useful for monitoring spatial and temporal patterns and trends in chronic oil pollution. In this chapter, we briefly review the history and current schemes of beached bird surveys around the North Sea and the development and sensitivity of the monitoring instrument, followed by an overview of the most recent developments and trends. Oil pollution at sea has been known since the late nineteenth century, and the first beached bird surveys were conducted in the 1920s. Oil rates (the proportion of seabirds found on the tideline that were oiled) remained very high until the late 1980s, but have since declined markedly. Protocols were modified in the late 1990s in order to obtain an internationally accepted monitoring instrument. The subsequent continuation of the declining trends in oil rates around the North Sea is discussed. The species composition of the seabirds most commonly found oiled suggests that coastal areas are currently more or less free from chronic oil pollution, while higher pollution levels occur around shipping lanes in areas with the highest shipping densities.

Keywords

  • Beached bird surveys
  • Chronic oil pollution
  • Historical overview
  • Monitoring techniques
  • North Sea
  • Oil pollution
  • Recent trends

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In 1954, the United Kingdom organised a conference on oil pollution which resulted in the adoption of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (OILPOL), 1954. Following entry into force of the IMO Convention in 1958, the depository and secretariat functions in relation to the Convention were transferred from the United Kingdom government to IMO.

  2. 2.

    IMO 1973/78. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78). International Maritime Organization, London, http://www.imo.org/home.asp.

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Acknowledgement

Beached bird surveys are impossible without volunteer input, and literally thousands of volunteers have been involved around the North Sea since the early 1950s. Their motivation was to help highlight the adverse effects of marine pollution on marine wildlife, and it has been the responsibility of hundreds of regional, national and international co-ordinators of these schemes to analyse and report the collected data. Given the long history of oil pollution, many volunteers did not live long enough to even witness the change in the attitude of man, as a result of which chronic pollution is now finally substantially minimised. A final step towards genuinely oil-free marine surface waters has still to be made; illegal discharges and leakages following ignorance during shipping and offshore activities still occur frequently. With respect to the material presented here, we would like to thank Jaap van der Meer (statistical advice), Eric Stienen and Sabine Schmitt for their help with recent literature and census reports.

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Camphuysen, K., Heubeck, M. (2015). Beached Bird Surveys in the North Sea as an Instrument to Measure Levels of Chronic Oil Pollution. In: Carpenter, A. (eds) Oil Pollution in the North Sea. The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry, vol 41. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/698_2015_435

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