LIFE Project Cover Photo

Conservation of Larus audouinii in Spain. Grosa Island SPA (Murcia)

Reference: LIFE03 NAT/E/000061 | Acronym: Gaviota Murcia



Audouin's Gull (Larus audouinii) is a medium-sized bird native of the Mediterranean. It is distinguished by a striking coral-red beak with one or two black bands and a yellowish tip. Ninety percent of the world population breeds on the Spanish coast. The birds migrate in winter towards the south, in particular to the Atlantic coast of Africa.

Threats to the species include competition with the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis), lack of suitable nesting sites on the island, concentration of populations at very few locations in the Mediterranean, the species' dependence on fish waste from fishing boats for food and interference from tourist and fishing activities. The worldwide population declined to less than 1 000 pairs in the 1960s.

Protection measures and an increase in discarded fish waste from the fishing industry, particularly at the Ebro delta in Spain, have helped increase numbers substantially in recent years. This LIFE project sought to continue this progress. It took place on Isla Grosa, a Natura 2000 site off the south-east coast of Spain which hosts a colony of 900 pairs, the third largest colony in the world. Covering 18 ha, the island was declared a Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds in 2000.


The general objective of the project was to increase the population of Audouin's Gulls in the Mediterranean through coordinated actions with the regional administrations of Catalonia and Valencia, which are also conducting LIFE Nature projects on the species. It sought to guarantee the preservation and recovery of habitats for the principal bird species in the area and reconcile environmental protection with leisure activities and traditional fishing practices.

The project foresaw restoration of an abandoned military installation for use as a surveillance and research centre, and to control predator species, in particular the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis). Comprehensive monitoring and surveillance of the bird populations, a demographic model and a study on the incidence of fishing activity on the species were to be implemented.

Other planned actions included placing of artificial nests and use of artificial calls to encourage breeding and also that of the European storm petrel (Hidrobates pelagicus). These measures were to be accompanied by a widespread public information campaign. It was expected that this combination of actions would provide a sound basis for drafting a recovery plan of the species on the island, to be approved during the project.


This LIFE nature project represents a good and comprehensive management of a Natura 2000 site (SPA)carried out between the regional government and a local NGO. Its implementation has increased knowledge of the factors affecting Audouin's Gull and also other species present in the project site, including birds, reptiles, invertebrates, marine communities and plants.

Detailed studies and monitoring of key species were undertaken following extensive refurbishment of the infrastructure on the island. Monitoring was done on the target species, but also important predators, such as the Montpellier snake. Some predators were controlled, notably through an annual cull of yellow-legged gulls.

The project supplied valuable new information on the link between the gull’s feeding patterns and fishing activities. It revealed that the species only has limited reliance on the discards thrown into the sea by the trawling fleet and thus that the species should not be overly affected by the closed fishing season for trawlers during the breeding period or changes in EC Fishing policies.

The project installed sound decoys, constructed artificial nests and cleared vegetation in designated areas to restore suitable breeding zones for the Audouin gull and also for the storm petrel. It also collaborated with other initiatives, such as the tagging of Audouin Gulls and the census of Passeriformes in the island network.

The project drafted a Management Plan for the SPA, including not just the island, but also the surrounding marine environment - the SPA could be enlarged accordingly. Whilst, the island’s protection was guaranteed by regular monitoring and control by beneficiary’s staff, the procedures were being followed to approve the plan in 2009.

The team observed positive trends in gull numbers 2003-2005. In 2006-7, a notable shift in gull numbers was observed to new Mediterranean sites in the salt pans of Torrevieja and those of San Pedro and also La Manga (Puerto Mayor). This movement seems to be linked with the proximity of fisheries in that area. Taking into account the new colonies, the partners estimate an overall annual increase of 10% in the bird population in the Mediterranean region.

Extensive public awareness work took place. A permanent exhibition was set up in the research facilities and LIFE information panels were set up on the island. Additional materials were published and distributed, events organized in schools and training courses and workshops on bird protection organized. The beneficiary hopes that soon the protection status of the bird will be decreased from endangered to vulnerable.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).


Reference: LIFE03 NAT/E/000061
Acronym: Gaviota Murcia
Start Date: 01/01/2004
End Date: 31/12/2007
Total Budget: 942,824 €
EU Contribution: 707,118 €
Project Location: Murcia


Coordinating Beneficiary: Consejería de Desarrollo Sostenible y Ordenación del Territorio
Legal Status: PUBLIC
Address: c/ Catedrático Eugenio Ubeda, 3 - 3° pl., E-30008, MURCIA, España
Contact Person: Matías GARCÍA

LIFE Project Map



  • Birds
  • Marine


  • migratory species
  • monitoring
  • protected area
  • public-private partnership
  • island
  • disused military site


  • Larus audouinii


Type Code Name


Name Type
Consejería de Desarrollo Sostenible y Ordenación del Territorio Coordinator
Association of Naturalists from the South-East of Spain (ANSE) Participant