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Researchers issue urgent warning after observing concerning pattern in seabird populations: 'We need to act now'

"One of the biggest immediate conservation threats faced by multiple seabird species."

"One of the biggest immediate conservation threats faced by multiple seabird species."

Photo Credit: iStock

An outbreak of avian influenza has caused researchers to issue an urgent warning after they noticed a considerable decline in bird populations.

What's happening?

The Guardian reported that the influenza strain H5N1, which began making the rounds in 2021, has decimated several species in the United Kingdom, which lost more than 75% of its great skuas, a type of predatory seabird that mostly nests in the country. 

"To have that level of loss in a population we have international responsibility for is quite catastrophic," Jean Duggan, an avian influenza policy assistant for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told the news outlet. 

The RSPB also found that the numbers of northern gannets had dropped by 25% in the U.K. as a whole and by 54% in Wales, while roseate terns lost 21% of their population. 

On its website, the organization noted that 84% of all breeding seabirds in the U.K. had tested positive for H5N1. 

Why is this concerning?

The winged creatures play an important role in protecting the biodiversity of coastal ecosystems, in part by fertilizing plant life through their droppings and serving as a food source for multiple animals. 

According to the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, their well-being is an important indicator in determining the overall health of our environment.

In this case, changing global temperatures may have played a role in the spread of the avian flu. Similarly, scientists have sounded the alarm regarding the spread of disease in human populations as our planet warms. 

Last year, Grist highlighted how the H5N1 strain had led to the deaths of millions of birds in the United States, also leading to an uptick in the cost of eggs and poultry. 

In its latest report, the RSPB called H5N1 "one of the biggest immediate conservation threats faced by multiple seabird species" and indicated the impacts could be felt on a global scale. 

"We had the census and now we have this. We need to act now; it's about building resilience," Duggan told The Guardian, which noted that millions of wild birds are believed to have been killed by the virus.

What can be done to help seabirds?

A Seabirds Count survey published in November found that nearly 62% of seabirds in the U.K. had experienced a non-flu-related drop in numbers due to human activities, as reported by The Guardian. 

Unsustainable fishing was among the factors listed. There are plenty of resources to help consumers buy seafood harvested in an environmentally friendly way. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, for example, has recommendation search tools and guides.

Meanwhile, switching to LED light bulbs could save you hundreds of dollars each year while eliminating as much as 500 pounds of carbon pollution linked to the overheating of our planet.

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