Important Bird Areas: British Antarctic Territory

Published on 10 December 2018 in Main articles

By Andrew Clarke

Abstract The British Antarctic Territory is a UK Overseas Territory that includes the Antarctic Peninsula and Weddell Sea, extending from 60ºS to the South Pole. It has 19 species of regularly breeding birds and is particularly significant for Emperor Aptenodytes forsteri, Gentoo Pygoscelis papua, Chinstrap P. antarcticus and Adélie Penguins P. adeliae, Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus, Cape Petrel Daption capense, Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides and Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea. The oceanic and shelf waters within BAT are important feeding grounds for a number of albatrosses and petrels that breed farther north. Several of these species are globally Near Threatened and require urgent action to improve their conservation status. Over 40 occasional visitors and vagrants have been recorded from BAT; many are seabirds but there are also ducks and waders that have overshot their wintering grounds in Patagonia, and a few passerines. Current threats to the avifauna include marine plastics and incidental mortality in longline and trawl fisheries outside Antarctica. Fishing within the Southern Ocean is now well regulated but albatrosses and petrels are still killed in large numbers in more distant fisheries. The western Antarctic Peninsula has undergone a strong regional warming, leading to marked shifts in the breeding distribution of pygoscelid penguins. While such shifts have occurred in the past as the regional climate has warmed and cooled, the warming of the eastern Antarctic Peninsula is unprecedented.

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Adélie Penguins returning to their breeding colony over winter fast-ice, November 1979. The timing of ice breakout in spring is critical to the breeding success of many Antarctic seabirds. Doug Allan