Using Seabirds as Sentinels of Ecosystem Health

Since 1994, Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) has conducted a Southern California Bight-wide monitoring program to improve the efficacy of existing monitoring programs, and improve capacity for regional assessments. The Bight program has traditionally included sediment, water, invertebrate, fish, and habitat components in its program. In 2013, seabirds will, for the first time, be included in this assessment to determine exposure levels across the region and consider bioaccumulation along trophic pathways. The IEMM is leading the initiative on this seabird assessment.

Seabirds are ideal candidates to act as sentinels of legacy and emerging toxic contaminants in the marine environment and at the land-sea interface. Seabirds have been shown to serve as effective indicators of marine health and can detect changes in ecosystem quality in relevant timescales. Contaminants are found in high quantities in seabirds due to bioaccumulation, and biomagnification. Seabirds also exhibit sub-lethal, physiological effects from contaminant exposure, such as eggshell thinning.

As part of the Bight program seabird monitoring program design, IEMM will be working with a wide range of partners from federal, state and local agencies to build on existing data to sample contaminants in seabirds across feeding guilds that are spatially distributed throughout the Bight. Sampling salvaged eggs at 8 mainland sites and 4 island sites throughout the Southern California coast, analyses will target chlorinated compounds, PBDEs, and metals. Integrating seabird data within the context of the Bight monitoring program, this regional monitoring project will establish site specific conditions as well as assessments that can inform large-scale management and policy.

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