I very much enjoyed the SOC Conference in Troon. The SOC made me feel young – not for many decades have I stayed up until 0330 drinking and talking like I did on Friday night (Saturday morning).
There were lots of great talks but I’ll stick to a seabird theme here – partly because I saw a Mediterranean Gull while I was having breakfast.
Gail Robertson, who is writing up her PhD, told us about terns on Coquet Island. She compared the feeding strategies of Roseate, Common and Arctic Terns. Even though these three species look pretty much the same, and they were living on the same island, they fed in subtly different places and ate fairly different prey. That’s what one would expect but it was a fairly neat example. And any talk featuring Roseate Terns gets my vote.
Another output of this talk could be that because different species feed in different places it is quite difficult to identify the correct boundaries for Marine Protected Areas. If different species use different areas of sea and also different areas are used at different times of year, or different years, one needs an awful lot of data to identify MPAs. Can we hear a cry from the academic community echoing in the distance – more research please! more time please! more money please!
Why is it, I wonder, that it seems accepted that nature has to justify the details of its protection? Why are areas not protected until the marine ‘i’s are dotted and the marine ‘t’s are crossed? Why don’t we do it the other way round? Why aren’t large areas protected and only released for economic exploitation when the fishing industry has spent its money justifying, with independent science, over many years, that an area is safe to fish? I am serious – why not?
A later talk, by Bob Furness, who finished his PhD a little while ago, was also about seabirds and possible ways to protect the internationally important populations around out coasts (of course, there was also discussion about what ‘our’ might mean by this time next year after a referendum).
Bob reckons that marine wind turbines are a greater threat to more seabirds than are underwater tidal stream turbines, which are themselves potentially less damaging than surface wave power developments. That sounded, generally speaking, quite convincing.
Bob even suggested that mitigation for impacts of renewable energy developments might be best done by removing predators from seabird islands or by reducing overfishing – it’s an interesting idea from a biologist who knows about seabirds but difficult to fit in to the current legal framework.
Of course the SOC also made me feel old – I didn’t stay up until 0330 on Saturday night which I might have done 30 years ago!