German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)

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Sea birds


Map of the current flight survey transect design for sea birds in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.
Map of the current flight survey transect design for sea birds in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

Sea birds

Monitoring requirements under the Birds Directive, OSPAR, HELCOM and MSFD

Important offshore sea bird resting areas and migration routes in the North Sea and Baltic Sea are monitored using aerial and vessel-based transect surveys. The current programme is primarily focused on monitoring divers, little gulls, guillemots, razorbills and sea ducks. The airborne counts are carried out on a transect basis as for porpoises but at a lower altitude because birds have a smaller body size. Vessel-based surveys in representative areas are needed to precisely tell apart similar species such as black-throated and red-throated divers and some sea ducks.


Vessel-based sea bird survey. Photo: Nicole Sonntag
Vessel-based sea bird survey. Photo: Nicole Sonntag

Methods dependent on season and area

In the North Sea, annual full airborne surveys are carried out alternately in summer and winter. Additional partial surveys are carried out every two years in the special protection areas of the German North Sea, in each case in winter and spring, plus annual vessel-based partial surveys of the EEZ off Heligoland and of offshore areas of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony alternately in autumn and summer.


Flight survey in winter – ice floes at sea. Photo: K. Borkenhagen (FTZ)
Flight survey in winter – ice floes at sea. Photo: K. Borkenhagen (FTZ)

In the Baltic Sea, a full airborne survey is carried out every two years plus partial airborne surveys every year in the Pomeranian Bay SPA, in each case alternately in spring and summer. Additional vessel-based partial surveys in the Pomeranian Bay SPA and adjoining near-shore protected areas are carried out in winter every two years.

Whereas flight transects follow set paths, vessel transects are heavily dependent on weather conditions and hence cannot be precisely planned.

The ship transects shown in the map are therefore examples, while the flight transects represent a fixed design.

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