Sea ghosts – storm petrels reveal crucial marine data


White-faced_Storm-petrel. JJ Harrison, creative commons

The Balearic university is in the forefront of a €2 million Europe-wide study called SEAGHOST.

Storm petrels are the smallest of seabirds. Like canaries in the mine, they indicate the general state of the marine ecosystems of the European coastline and the impacts of human activity.

Small bodies hard to study

Coordinator of SEAGHOST Raül Ramos from the University of Barcelona (UB) Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences remarks that “Storm petrels … travel long distances over the sea, feed mainly on plankton, are very long-lived despite their small size and are extremely sensitive to threats from human activity in general. Until now, their body size and elusive behaviour have been a major limitation to their study”.

He says challenges storm petrels face include “climate change, renewable energies, aquaculture and exposure to microplastics”.

SEAGHOST is an example of European collaboration at its best.

The three-year project will combine available monitoring data with new data gathered using advanced technologies such as ultra-miniaturised geolocation devices and DNA metabarcoding analysis.

European cooperation

Dr Ana Sanz, a joint researcher at the UIB and the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA), is leading conservation actions in breeding colonies as part of the study.

The UB has partnered with the DNASense project, led by the University of Stockholm (Sweden), to carry out this project.

Coordinated by Professor Raül Ramos of the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio-UB), the project aims to understand the threats affecting the conservation of northern storm petrels all over Europe.

Sixteen partners from ten European countries are involved (Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain), as well as one from the United States and one from Canada.

SEAGHOST receives funding of more than €2 million from the European Biodiversity Partnership (Biodiversa+), a consortium that promotes research excellence to protect biodiversity and is financed by the Biodiversity Foundation of the Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.

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Annie christmas in the Bay of Palma
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Annette Christmas

Annie Christmas loves language and communication. A long-time resident of Mallorca, she enjoys an outdoor life of cycling, horse riding and mountain walking, as well as the wealth of concerts and cultural events on the island. She also plays fiddle in a traditional Mallorcan dance troupe.