In 2008, the Portuguese inventory of marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs), published by SPEA, identified one such area at Ria Formosa. However, the baseline information proved to be insufficient and the IBA never became legally binding. Between 2012 and 2015 Portugal made an important step towards implementing the Natura 2000 network in the marine environment by establishing new marine Special Protection Areas (SPAs), but this process was not aimed at conserving Audouin's gull (Larus audouinii). At thetime, the breeding information and distribution data for this species in Portugal was considered insufficient. Since then, further work has been carried out and new insights clearly indicate there is now a stable meta-population breeding on the uninhabited Barreta Island, within the Ria Formosa barrier island system. Climate change and the related sea-level rise threaten barrier islands which, as holders of unique ecosystems, need urgent attention. These islands are also threatened by human-related pressures.
LIFE Ilhas Barreira aims to characterise the local ecological requirements and conservation threats of the target species and habitat types, in order to implement effective conservation actions. The project will represent an important step towards current and future sustainable management of the SPA. It will also help implement a range of EU legislation and policy, such as the biodiversity strategy, Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 on invasive alien species, and the action plan for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gear. On top of that, it will contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Barrier islands are exposed to many threats and hazards, such as storm induced erosion and sea level rise. The protection and restoration of grey dunes on the islands will help enhance the systems natural dynamics and conserve this fragile ecosystem.
The projects specific objectives are to: understand the main threats to the target species and habitats, both on land and at sea; recover the grey dunes habitat and assess the effect ofgullson this habitat; promote the sustainable use of the Ria Formosa barrier islands and marine area, focusing on fisheries and tourism; evaluate the effects of climate change and other drivers of change on the eco-morphology of the barrier islands system; understand the breeding ecology, foraging behaviour and spatial distribution of L. audouinii and the little tern (Sternula Albifrons); evaluate and mitigate bycatch impacts on seabirds and assess the future effect of the EUs discard ban on the L. audouinii local population, engaging the local fishing community; evaluate possible competitive interactions and predation by the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) towards the target species; protect breeding areas for L. audouinii and S. albifrons (by restricting tourist access, controlling predators, increasing surveillance and implementing environmental awareness campaigns); and review the marine IBA limits and update the marine area of the SPA.
Expected results: native plants mapped and monitored on Barreta Island, including impacts of alien plant species; distribution of the three most aggressive invasive plant species in the barrier islands assessed and eradication methods tested; 100% control of invasive alien plants on Barreta Island and over 600 m2 on Culatra Island; at least 75% of grey dunes habitat managed; assessment of L. michahellis population status and trend, impacts on other seabirds and grey dunes habitat, and identification of measures to minimize impacts; L. audouinii, S. albifrons and L. michahellis seabird populations assessed on land and at sea (i.e. their breeding populations, spatial distribution, foraging areas, fisheries interactions, inter-specific interactions and predation); individual tracking, metal ringing and colour ringing of target species. At least 40 L. audouinii and 30 S. albifrons tracked each year. A total of 2 000 birds ringed; alien mammal predator control and test of best biosecurity measures from year two of the project; 20% increase in the success of seabird recovery at the Ria Formosa wildlife recovery and research centre; L. audouinii and S. albifrons breeding success increased by 30%; monitoring of at least 20% of the fishing fleet operating within the marine IBA to assess bycatch levels and characterise seabirds interactions (focusing on L. audouinii and the Balearic shearwater); seabird bycatch rate reduced by at least 80% on boats using mitigation measures; best-practice guidelines for fishermen, tourists and residents; improved network of walkways; local environmental awareness actions reaching over 21 000 people; and involvement of all schools in Ria Formosa municipalities in an environmental education plan targeting 20 000 students.