Marine Important Bird Areas of the Russian Far East

Marine Important Bird Areas of the Russian Far East

This project is a part of a BirdLife International global programme, whose aim is to organise the network of World Ocean areas that are of primary importance to the conservation of seabirds. An inventory of marine Important Bird Areas (IBA) of international importance in the Russian Far East was carried out, thanks to collaboration between the BirdsRussia and the Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Geographical Institute (Far-Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences) and BirdLife International. The Far-Eastern IBAs were identified between 2012-2015 by a group of experts from different areas of scientific research, in addition to the country’s education and nature conservation organisations. The process of designating the marine IBAs was based on a methodology developed by experts at BirdLife International with some changes when taking into account the regional specifics of the bird population. Sixty-eight bird species are selected as identifiers of IBAs in the Far-Eastern seas of Russia, which regularly feature in our waters during breeding, nomadic movements, migrations or overwintering and are tightly connected with the marine environment during certain periods of their life cycle.

The results of an inventory were presented in a catalogue published in 2016 in Russian and English. The catalogue covers an area of 379.9 mln. ha within the limits of Russian waters of the Chukchi Sea, Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk, Sea of Japan and north-western area of the Pacific Ocean. Description of each IBA (map-scheme with the indication of boundaries and areas, physics-geographical characteristics, ornithological importance, key species status, practical use, existing threatening factors, required and accepted conservation measures) is given.

Results of the analysis conducted in the Russian Far East revealed 40 IBAs of global importance. The total designated water area comprises 23.5 mln. ha, or 6.2 % of the region under investigation. The size of the individual territories varies from 8,200 ha to 4.9 mln. ha with an average of 588,213 ha. The spatial distribution of the marine IBAs is fairly even. The network of identified IBAs covers all of the Far-Eastern seas, as well as practically all the coastal physiographic provinces selected in the study region.

The marine Important Bird Areas were selected for 49 of 68 indicatory bird species. The territories are ranked in ornithological importance from 1 to 14 species. The number of mono-species IBAs, i.e. designated for the conservation of only one species, is 11, comprising 27.5 % of the total number of territories. Among taxa Anatidae (representatives of this group were used in 48 instances for the determination of key water areas), Alcidae (42) and Laridae (30) were most evident.

In the majority of the described IBAs (at least 33 of 40), mass concentrations of birds typically occur at nesting sites on the shores adjacent to the selected water areas. The largest nesting settlements, consisting of millions of specimens of various species of colonial seabirds, are located in the north of the Bering Sea (Ratmanova Island, Navarin Cape) and in the region of the Sea of Okhotsk (Yamskiye and the Middle Kuril Islands). There are key non-nesting concentrations of summering birds (sea ducks), which form during seasonal moulting and during movements to moulting sites within 9 designated IBAs – the greatest numbers being found near the north-eastern shore of Sakhalin Island. Important stopover sites and sites of transit for migratory sea ducks, divers and gulls are known for 8 IBAs. These are situated near the shores of Chukotka, Koryakiya and Kamchatka. The nomadic movements of pelagic birds (albatrosses and shearwaters) are typical in the open waters of the Commander and South Kuril Islands, and also in the region of Navarin Canyon. The mass overwintering sites of birds (sea ducks) are situated within the borders of 6 designated IBAs. One territory (Lopatka Peninsula and First Kuril Strait) is a bottleneck site, through which an active migration of waterfowl and seabirds passes.

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     Most of the Far-Eastern marine Important Bird Areas is situated in the shelf zone: 39 territories include a considerable area of shelf waters, their total area amounts to 15.6 mln. ha (66.3 % оf the total area of all IBAs). The most extensive areas of shelf (more than 1 mln. ha) are situated within the limits of 3 territories (Wrangel and Herald Islands, Navarin Canyon, Lesser Kuril Ridge and Kunashir Island). Eight identified IBAs with a total area of 2.1 mln. ha (8.7 %) extend out to the shelf break (depths within the range 200 to 1,000 m). The waters above the continental slope zone (1,000-3,000 m) are included in 6 IBAs and have a total area of 3.7 mln. ha (15.6 %). The abyssal regions, stretched above the global seafloor (deeper than 3,000 m), are included within the borders of only 3 IBAs which surround Karaginskiy and the Commander and Middle Kuril Islands (totalling 2.0 mln. ha, or 8.3 % of the area of all IBAs). The coastal bird habitats (estuaries and lagoons) occupy only 0.3 % and 0.8 %, respectively of the total area of designated IBAs.

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Among the 40 marine IBAs across the entire area the official status of Specially Protected Nature Sites exists only in 21 IBAs (52.5 % of the total number). In total, the legislatively protected area within the borders of the key designated waters comprises 9.4 mln. ha (39.8 % of the area of all IBAs). Six IBAs have complete territorial protection, which came about due to pre-existing federal Specially Protected Nature Sites. Of the remaining 15, a maximum of 84.0 % of the areas are under protection.

At the present time 19 of 40 IBAs (47.5 % of the total number and 60.2 % of the area of all IBAs) have no nature conservation status. Unfavourable conservation circumstances exist for IBAs on a major part of the Bering Sea region, where from the southern shore of the Chukotskiy Peninsula to the Kamchatskiy Gulf there is not a single protected marine water area. A similar picture is observed in the north-eastern mainland shore of the Sea of Okhotsk and to a considerable extent in the Great Kuril Ridge.

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The regional network of the Far-Eastern marine IBAs, established on the basis of globally accepted methodological approaches, is being integrated into the world network of IBAs. Note that 4 IBAs (Ratmanova Island, Navarin Canyon, Lesser Kuril Ridge and Kunashir Island, Furugel’ma Island and Tumannaya River delta) are trans-border formations that necessarily result in close collaboration between neighbouring countries for the purpose of further study and the provision of efficient protection of these territories.

Project Manager – member of Kamchatka branch of BirdsRussia, PhD Yuri Borisovich Artyukhin (artukhin @

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