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Mapping bird sensitivity to marine oil pollution.

The project aims to provide the competent authorities in maritime emergencies with the best available information to avoid important impacts on seabirds: sensitivity maps and updated protocols to be incorporated into the official systems of vessel distress management, with the potential to extend to other member states, and to incorporate other biota.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • How best to respond to an oil spill taking into account seabird risks?

Implementation Context:

The maps were developed within a project of SEO BirdLife International, with the aim of protecting and minimising the impacts of oil spills on seabirds.

Aspects / Objectives:

  • Objective 1 – Developing a methodology and elaborating maps of seabird sensitivity areas to oil spills;
  • Objective 2 – Identifying the key institutions and professionals to contact in the eventuality of an oil spill and to update procedure manuals;
  • Objective 3 – Integrating these outputs into the official systems of vessel distress management;
  • Objective 4 – Putting forward a proposal for the extension of this methodology to other faunal groups and habitats;
  • Objective 5 – Disseminating the results of this project and advocating to have it implemented in other EU Member States.


The project focused on three countries (namely, France, Spain and Portugal), seven sub-regions, 49 seabird species, 1,226,670 km2, over 300 birds tagged, and over 400 Seabird data and Spatial Distribution Models (SDM).

Based on the available seabird data, the distribution of each species was modelled, producing an SDM for each species, season and region. A Seabird Sensitivity Index (SSI) was then created, taking into consideration 10 different factors related to:

  • The probability of oil spill contact based on the behavioural and ecological features of each species;
  • Conservation status; and
  • Life-history traits.

Each SDM was weighted by the specific oil spill sensitivity (saSSI), depending on each region and season, to obtain an oil spill sensitivity map by species.

In addition to the data collection process, meetings with national authorities were organised (including the two international meetings and expert workshops) to present the project and discuss the best way to incorporate maps into the national response systems. Furthermore, throughout the 27 months of the project duration, two oil spill simulations were carried out in Spain, with the purpose of improving the response protocols in the countries.

Main Outputs / Results:

The project was successful in producing the sensitivity maps for each season and region/country. These maps were agreed to be incorporated into the response systems of France, Spain and Portugal.


Although the maps were developed only for three European countries, the methods could further be applied for other countries. Some partners of BirdLife International have already expressed interest in applying this methodology in their countries.

Responsible Entity:


Costs / Funding Source:


Costs: € 283,274 (75% from the EU).

Contact person: