NOAA Fisheries collects information on seabirds as part of our cetacean and ecosystem assessment surveys. In part this is driven by requirements under a variety of statutes (e.g., Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act). We also collect data on seabird occurrence because seabirds are excellent indicators of ecosystem conditions and health. They are highly migratory, such that their occurrence in certain regions is an indicator that conditions are good enough for them to find food. Among the many species of seabirds are those that feed relatively low on the food chain (small floating organisms, various species of plankton or nekton) to those feeding near the top of the food chain (on schooling fish). Seabirds are also easily studied relative to other marine species because they are most commonly in the air or floating on the water surface.
Based on seabird surveys of the Hawaiian Archipelago conducted during previous HICEAS (2002 and 2010) we know that at least 40 seabird species are found here. Half of these breed on islands and atolls in the archipelago and feed in surrounding waters. The other half are either seasonal visitors (breeding elsewhere but coming to forage during their non-breeding season) or migrants (passing through on their way between breeding and foraging grounds).
HICEAS 2017 will provide the first comprehensive survey since the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The seabird survey is valuable for the Monument, as it is home to more than 14 million birds living in what is collectively the largest tropical seabird rookery in the world. Our data provide critical information on the at-sea occurrence, distribution, and abundance of seabirds, allowing various agencies to effectively manage, protect, and conserve these valuable living resources.
For more information and photos on seabirds, see: