The SeaBC Sea Bird Count is a citizen science project organized by a volunteer group of nine long-distance birding sailors from around the world. The mission of SeaBC is to benefit seabird conservation by mobilizing the worldwide boating community to document ocean bird sightings, providing critical and seldom-recorded data on seabird abundance and distribution, as well as on ocean migration routes.
SeaBC seabird count data goes to Cornell University’s eBird database (www.ebird.org), where boaters’ sightings become a resource for scientists worldwide. Seabird knowledge is described as a frontier science. New species are still being discovered. Species believed to be extinct are being re-sighted. For some species, breeding or wintering areas remain unknown. This lack of knowledge is troubling given that BirdLife International estimates one-third of seabirds are now vulnerable or globally endangered due to threats from predators on nesting grounds, some fisheries practices, and marine pollution such as plastics.
Conservation efforts first require understanding. In the case of seabirds, study has traditionally focused on breeding grounds where the birds are easiest to study. Yet seabirds spend most of their life at sea, and the difficult logistics have curtailed understanding of all aspects of their life history. Hence the role of citizen scientists, in this case boaters who cruise offshore or along the coast.
“It’s a logical activity for OCC members to take part in. Our members tend to be adventurous in long-distance cruising, often going places where others may not venture, like Greenland and Antarctica. They observe nature as it is, and this is one way that their observations can contribute to a larger body of knowledge,” says John Franklin, Commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club. “In fact, three of the founding advisors of SeaBC are prominentOCC members, Beth Leonard, Jeanne Socrates and Dorothy Wadlow. As an organisation, we are very pleased to support this effort.”
SeaBC Founder and yachtswoman Diana Doyle believes that “it is a natural fit to ask Ocean Cruising Club members—who are already out on the water, with global reach, in under- surveyed waters—to help out by taking digital photos of seabirds, uploading photos, and reporting sightings”. And she points out that “participants do not need to be ‘seabird experts’ or knowledgeable about seabirds. We have set up an online Facebook forum and work with a designated eBird seabird reviewer for identification help and to ensure the validity of the data. OCC members can make a huge contribution simply by photographing seabirds and recording the latitude and longitude.”
With budget cutbacks leaving research vessels with less sea-time—and concern about recent shifts in the ocean’s ecology—the contribution of the “yachts of opportunity” that OCC members can provide is all the more important.
• Educate mariners about seabirds and their conservation.
• Mobilize the long-distance boating community to contribute seldom recorded seabird data to an established international citizen science database.
• Benefit seabird conservation by contributing information on seabird abundance and distribution.
• Initiate an awareness of the urgency of collecting baseline data.
• Identify experienced and interested boaters with vessels, extending the land-based range of established projects such as Audubon’s CBC and Cornell University’s eBird.
New resources and recording forms (including electronic versions) have been prepared to enable mariners to take part. Forms, posters, and other resources are available on the Facebook Birding Aboard group pages.