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Vanishing Canadian Seabirds

It will come as no surprise to you to hear that human activity can seriously impact . In addition to the problems caused by farming practices and urbanisation, it has become obvious that wind turbines are an issue. Now, it seems that offshore oil platforms are also bad news for birds.

Declining Populations of Leach’s Storm Petrels

Leach’s storm petrels are an important symbol of ocean health. But millions of the birds have vanished from Newfoundland in the last twenty years. No one is exactly sure why the birds have disappeared but it is twenty years since offshore oil production began in the North Atlantic. Scientists believe that the oil platforms are to blame for the missing birds.

Research Required

Experts believe that the link between oil production and the dwindling number of Leach’s storm petrels should be studied. The populations are down a disturbing 40% and it is known that the birds are attracted to the flares produced by the platforms. It is felt that the industry regulators have failed to acquire independent analysis of the situation. Nobody is monitoring avian activity offshore.

Biologists feel strongly that scientific data should be collected to facilitate an analysis of the effects of the artificial light produced by the oil platforms. There are four drilling sites - Hibernia, Terra Nova, White Rose and now the Hebron site which is about 350 kilometres southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Regulator Refuses to Enforce Independent Monitoring

The federal regulator does not require the operators of the platforms to assess how often the birds are injured or killed when they fly into the flares, collide with equipment or become stranded. Experts believe that the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) should require all offshore sites to use light deflectors and to permit independent observers to visit the platforms.

Seabirds are vital to the ecosystem of the ocean. If the drilling platforms are affecting the birds, they should be aware of that impact. The C-NLOPB has said in a written statement that it does carry out regular environmental audits offshore. It also requires the operators to minimize lights where possible to deter seabirds and to check in with the board before the use of flares so migration patterns can be considered.

On-Board Personnel

Drilling rigs do have personnel on board whose job it is to monitor weather and sightings of seabirds. But the board feels that independent observers should only be sent to the platforms if evidence of negligence is found. But this is a curious stance to take. How could evidence of poor practice be detected without the presence of observers?

Urgent Situation

The situation is becoming ever more urgent as the number of seabirds continues to decline. It is difficult to evolve measures to protect the birds and secure their future when so little is known about why they are disappearing at such an alarming rate.

To make matters worse, the petrels spend the winter off southern and western Africa along with Brazil. The birds may also be affected by oil and gas development in these locations.

The fight between ecologists and the oil companies looks set to continue.


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