Saturday 28 July 2018

National Marine Week 2018

We are all thrilled with the recent surge in public support for reducing plastic waste and protecting our oceans but there is still a long way to go.

Sadly Skomer’s inaccessible beaches are strewn with man-made items, from flip flops, bike wheels and bottles, but the vast majority on this island is rope and buoys from the fishing industry.
What at first looks like a lovely Skomer scene of splashy seas around hauled out seals on the rocks by the Garland Stone last September, soon becomes a heartbreaking image when you notice the seal at the back has rope around her neck.

Skomer's waters have species and habitats of national and international importance. These include grey seal, pink seafan, sponge communities, eelgrass and algal communities.

So how are Skomer's waters protected?

Skomer sits within a Marine conservation zone, which was the first in wales, established in 2014. Before 2014 the area had been Wales’ only Marine Nature Reserve for 24 years.

Skomer MCZ byelaws 
Skomer MCZ has byelaws which are under nature conservation legislation. These restrict activities such as dumping rubbish and taking, killing or disturbing wildlife.There is a 5-knot speed limit within 100m of the shore to reduce disturbance to wildlife. The Reserve also benefits from specific fishery byelaws, prohibiting the use of mobile fishing gear (dredges and beam trawls) and the taking of certain scallop species by any means.
All activities are subject to voluntary codes of conduct in addition to the bylaws mentioned above.
For more information about the Skomer Marine Conservation Zone click here

Many people are surprised that any type of fishing is permitted around Skomer, and are surprised to see the fishing boats and pot buoys around the island, especially when they appear to be quite close in.

However, as we all know. The sea doesn’t have boundaries which separate different areas. Even more so than on the land, the sea has to be looked at as a whole, particularly when marine litter is concerned. The Bike tire that washed up on South Haven beach earlier this year could have floated quite a distance, and we’ve had plastic water and drinks bottles with French and Irish branding. Awareness of how litter on the land ends up in the sea will hopefully begin to change the tide on this, but there is very little discussion or comment on how to tackle the amount of fishing gear which is either discarded into the sea, or lost.

A Seal pup at the Wick rests it's head on a piece of plastic, surrounded by bottles, plastic packing tape, a buoy, and other plastic.

The Wildlife Trusts have recently launched the Living Seas Campaign. For more information on how to protect the seas, with information on how to chose the fish you eat, and more information on the important species that live there see here or for wales here.

To celebrate National Marine Week, we will be conducting sea watches from the Garland Stone either at low tide, or on the days when low tide is in the evenings, you can join us at Skomer Head through the middle of the day for a sea watch?
We will also be updating our twitter daily with our seal counts.

Sea watching from the Garland Stone. [Photo Dulcie Fairweather]
Sarah-Kay (Assistant Warden)

Saturday 21 July 2018

2018 whole island count totals

After having double checked this years whole island seabird counts we can now reveal some interim totals and begin to talk about trends. Generally 2018 was a protracted and poorly synchronised breeding season with some birds starting breeding on time and others up to a week late. Unsurprisingly (for Skomer anyway), Puffin and Razorbill numbers are up and some of the gulls, notably Kittiwakes, are down. A slight surprise was that Fulmar numbers have fallen by 14% since the last count was conducted in 2016. The number of Fulmar breeding sites had dropped below 500 in 2011 and 2012 but numbers steadily rose again between 2013 and 2016 (see graph). 

Species and count units

Totals (year of count)

% Change from previous count (years)
Fulmar (AOS)
578 (2018)
-14.37 (2016-2018)
Manx Shearwater (pairs)
316,000 (2011)
+9.0 per annum (1998-2011)
Storm Petrel (AOS)
220 (2016)
Stable (2003/4-2016)
Shag (AON)
6 (2018)
+20 (2017-2018)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (AON)
4,935 (2017)
-28.85 (2016-2017)
Herring Gull (AON)
365 (2018)
+22.90 (2017-2018)
Great Black-backed Gull (AON)
120 (2018)
No change (2017-2018)
Kittiwake (AON)
1,236 (2018)
-7.49 (2017-2018)
Guillemot (IND)
24,788 (2017)
+4.39 (2015-2017)
Razorbill (IND)
7,529 (2018)
+3.85 (2016-2018)
Puffin (IND)
30,895 (2018)
+22.47 (2017-2018)

AOS = Apparently Occupied Site (or ‘pairs’ e.g. a fulmar occupying a crevice, as they don’t build proper nests)
AON = Apparently Occupied Nest (or ‘pairs’ e.g. a fully built gull nest capable of holding eggs)
IND = Individuals

Fulmar population trends show a sharp increase in the late twentieth century followed by a decline thereafter. The population had begun to stabilise and even increase but numbers have dropped by 14% since 2016 (the last time there was a whole island count)
Puffin numbers continue to increase
Due to the increasingly large number of birds to count, a decision was made in 2016 to rotate counts of Guillemots with those of Fulmars and Razorbills. So in one year Guillemots will be counted and Fulmars and Razorbills not, then the following year Fulmars and Razorbills are counted and Guillemots not, and so on. This reduces the work load and potentially increases accuracy but does not allow for fine scale inter annual variation in numbers to be picked up quickly. We do, however, conduct annual plot counts of Fulmars, Guillemots and Razorbills, which are thought to be representative of the whole island.

The gargantuan task of censusing the whole island population of Manx Shearwaters was undertaken this year, however, the data takes a long time to analyse and results will not be available for a while, so the figure in the table above is from the previous whole island census, undertaken in 2011. Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers also take a while to analyse so are unavailable for 2018 just yet. Guillemots were not counted in 2018 so the most up to date count is from 2017.  

Field work for other studies, such as productivity monitoring and adult survival, are drawing to a close for the year now and as soon as all this data is put together the 2018 seabird report will go online. Last years full report is available here.

Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes at Bull Hole
Counting from land...
... and sea
and enjoying the work