UIB and IMEDEA lead a European project to protect European Storm Petrels


The SEAGHOSTS project aims to enhance the study and conservation of the world's smallest and most elusive seabirds. It is one of the 33 projects funded under the European call BiodivMon, supported by Biodiversa+, aimed at improving biodiversity monitoring and ecosystem change.


The main objective of SEAGHOSTS, one of the 33 European projects selected in the BiodivMon call, is to understand the threats affecting the conservation of European Storm Petrels and to improve the protection of these bird populations in Europe. Dr. Ana Sanz Aguilar, a researcher at the University of the Balearic Islands and IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB), leads the conservation actions study in breeding colonies as part of this project. SEAGHOSTS stands out as one of the six projects funded by national institutions under this call, aimed at improving biodiversity monitoring and ecosystem change in Europe. With funding exceeding two million euros, its goal is to address the challenge of thoroughly understanding Storm Petrels, the world's smallest seabirds.

 "Storm Petrels are excellent indicators of the marine ecosystem's health: they spend over 90% of their lives at sea, travel long distances, primarily feed on zooplankton, can live over 30 years, and are highly sensitive to threats. Until recently, we didn't know where they fed or spent the winter; our studies in Benidorm and the Balearic Islands have been pioneering in this regard," says Ana Sanz, a researcher at UIB-IMEDEA.

 The researcher also emphasizes the importance of having precise data on species distribution, the threats they face, and how management actions can improve their conservation. "SEAGHOSTS will enhance our understanding of the spatial ecology, trophic ecology, demography, and threats faced by different Storm Petrel species present in Europe (Hydrobatidae and Oceanitidae), with the aim of helping to improve their conservation status," she adds.


Photo: Ana Sanz  with a specimen of Hydrobates pelagicus


The unequal distribution of human footprint in the oceans and the lack of study of its impact on the marine environment hinder the EU's achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Although there is European sensitivity towards the green transition, investment in low-carbon technologies and renewable energies can have negative effects on marine ecosystems.

Conservation measures for Storm Petrel colonies have been developed in the Balearic Islands and Benidorm, and the new data generated by this project will improve understanding of their migratory routes and feeding areas, identifying threats and critical areas requiring additional protection. This includes identifying critical points not covered by existing Marine Protected Areas, editing maps of sensitivity to anthropogenic impacts, defining more precise Conservation Units, and improving conservation strategies in breeding colonies.

 "The project aims to address gaps in knowledge about marine biodiversity by combining available monitoring data—demographic, morphological, genetic, and trophic—with new data that will be acquired during the project, thus complementing sampling across Europe. This knowledge will also contribute, in a more solid and specific way, to the definition of different Conservation Units (CU) for the Storm Petrels inhabiting our seas," explains researcher Raül Ramos from the University of Barcelona and coordinator of SEAGHOSTS.


Studying biodiversity with cutting-edge techniques:


Some of the methodologies that the SEAGHOSTS project will apply include ultra-miniaturized geolocation devices, habitat modeling, stable isotope analysis, DNA metabarcoding analysis, demographic analysis, geometric morphometrics, and microplastic characterization. SEAGHOSTS will provide an innovative and critical current perspective on anthropogenic impacts on the marine environment—particularly how these impacts affect little-known species—that will be key to better management and conservation of marine biodiversity. The project, to be deployed over the next three years, involves a total of sixteen partners from ten European countries (Spain, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Greece, Norway, Italy, France, Ireland, Iceland), as well as one from the United States and Canada.