New Protected Areas for Birds in the Adriatic


One of the main goals of the LIFE Artina project – Network for the Conservation of Seabirds in the Adriatic – was to identify key conservation areas significant for birds in the Adriatic, with a focus on the Yelkouan shearwater, Scopoli’s shearwater and Audouin’s gull, from which Yelkouan shearwater and Audouin’s gull are globally threatened seabird species, and listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union uniquely composed of both government and civil society organisations). These areas encompass important sites during the breeding season (mostly used for foraging and resting during the period when the chicks are being reared).

Monitoring Audouin’s gulls, Scopoli’s and Yelkouan shearwaters

For this purpose, during the project, the movements of 40 Scopoli’s shearwaters, 40 Yelkouan shearwaters, and 25 Audouin’s gulls were tracked using GPS devices. A better understanding of their movements is essential for their protection, to grasp the areas they utilize and the threats they face. Bird tagging aids in comprehending various aspects of species ecology, such as breeding sites, feeding grounds, roosting sites, migration routes, and wintering areas.

During the research, it was observed that some individuals of Audouin’s gull tagged in the Lastovo Archipelago migrated to the Atlantic coast of Morocco (about 3,000 kilometres away), and some individuals were even recorded in Senegal (over 4,000 km away). Additionally, movements of Yelkouan shearwaters and Scopoli’s shearwaters were noted as they left the Lastovo Archipelago area to feed in the northern Adriatic near Istria.

New Protected Areas

To ensure the best conservation of target marine bird species, it was necessary to create conditions and designate new marine conservation areas important for birds, not only for breeding but also for their feeding and movement, recognizing that seabirds’ habitats extend beyond land to the sea as well they depend on significantly. With data collected through GPS tracking, nest census and monitoring of seabirds using sea transects, the LIFE Artina project helped designate five new Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), and expanded the borders of two existing areas The latter two concern the SPA Pučinski otoci, covering the area around the island of Vis, including Biševo, Svetac (Sv. Andrija), Brusnik, Jabuka, and Palagruža; and the SPA Lastovsko otočje, encompassing 46 islands and islets and the surrounding sea, including the island of Sušac. The newly proposed sites are the channel between the islands of Lastovo and Korčula (also a significant ecological network area for common dolphins); the channel between the islands of Korčula and Hvar and the Pelješac peninsula; the channel between the islands of Brač and Hvar; the sea area near the eastern side of the island of Mljet; and an area in the Northern Adriatic, which is bisected by the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between Italy and Croatia, and is therefore submitted as two separate IBAs.

This marks the first time that protected areas exclusively at sea have been proclaimed in Croatia. These areas will in the future become part of the Natura 2000 ecological network, a network of protected areas of importance throughout the EU. Besides improving breeding conditions at the colonies, designating at-sea areas for conservation is important for ensuring the long-term survival of our shearwaters and Audouin’s gull, birds well-known to our fishermen.

How are Important Areas for Birds Designated?

Establishing Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas is fundamental for the survival of numerous species worldwide. The process of designating such areas follows a standardized approach developed by BirdLife International. It involves scientific criteria based on population size, distribution, and conservation status of each species. This comprehensive methodology ensures that only locations crucial for species conservation attain the status of Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas. Furthermore, this approach is globally applied in all countries where these species are present, facilitating protection not only at the national but also international level.

Since the late 1970s, the program for establishing Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas has identified, mapped, and documented over 12,000 such areas worldwide. The current focus is on sustaining these areas and their invaluable biodiversity through regular monitoring. At the national level, monitoring aids in swift responses to threats, understanding trends, and assessing the efficacy of species conservation efforts. The interconnectedness of Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas forms an integrated chain of support for migratory birds during their seasonal and daily movements as these areas provide safe havens for rest and feeding during demanding journeys. Recognizing biodiversity disparities among various regions, protecting such a network of areas arise as a strong way to for securing the survival of diverse bird species.

From IBA to SPA

However, identifying priority areas is only the beginning; it does not automatically ensure formal protection of these areas. It merely indicates which areas should be safeguarded within the existing conservation network. In EU member states, it is common for areas significant for birds to be protected as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) within the Natura 2000 ecological network. Moreover, after area designation, effective management of these areas is crucial. This reflects the essence of the Birds Directive, an international legal instrument for bird conservation, which mandates creating and properly managing Protected Areas of importance for birds (SPAs) within the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

We are delighted to have achieved this significant goal through the LIFE Artina project. However, a challenging task lies ahead: proclaiming these areas as part of the Natura 2000 ecological network and establishing effective management. We invite you to join our campaign “Sea Full of Life” and support the establishment of strict protection zones in the Adriatic Sea. Your awareness of the importance of these protective measures is pivotal for preserving the Adriatic Sea’s biological diversity for future generations.