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SAFE ISLANDS FOR SEABIRDS - Safe islands for seabirds/ Initiating the restoration of seabird-driven ecosystems in the Azores

LIFE07 NAT/P/000649

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Pedro GERALDES
Tel: 351-213220430
Fax: 351-213220439

Project description:


The populations of most species of Procellariiform seabirds in the Azores have been reduced in the last 500 years by several orders of magnitude. Few petrel species have been entirely lost from the archipelago, but their ecological functions have effectively ceased with profound consequences for native terrestrial communities. The population crashes have been caused by three main factors: over-harvesting, introduced predators and habitat destruction. Human harvesting has ceased, but introduced predators are ubiquitous on the main islands and have reached several of the offshore islets. Habitat destruction, primarily to make way for agricultural development, has also resulted in the spread of invasive alien plants. Despite bird population declines, the archipelago remains of critical importance for the conservation of several Bird Directive Annex 1 petrel species. Actions to conserve the remnant populations of petrels in the Azores have been developed, mostly involving seabird monitoring, colony identification and census. Active management of sites, however, has been limited; though the small-scale experimental studies have shown the potential for large-scale management and restoration of seabird colonies.


The Safe Islands for Seabirds project aimed to prepare for the full restoration of seabird habitats on Corvo, the smallest of the large uninhabited islands in the Azores and the one offering the best potential for seabird re-colonization. The objectives involved the implementation of innovative approaches and methodologies to increase the number, density and distribution range of seabirds on Corvo, including predator-free enclosures, exotic vegetation control, and seabird monitoring and management. One aim is to produce a complete alien mammal's operational plan for Corvo, in collaboration with local stakeholders, with eradication techniques being demonstrated at project sites.


The Safe Islands for Seabirds project demonstrated that the large-scale restoration of seabird habitats is possible through the use of innovative methods and approaches, with the ultimate aim of bringing more seabirds back to the Azores. The project team created GIS distribution maps for alien mammals and plants for Corvo Island and Vila Franca do Campo Islet, as the basis for a draft operation plan to eradicate them from target areas. A Biological Reserve was successfully established on Corvo by the LIFE project, with bio-security fencing extending for about 700m to prevent animals entering the delimited area. A bio-security protocol was drafted. Invasive alien mammals and plants were removed from this area and two existing reserves.

The project showed that eradicating rats from uninhabited islands in the Azores was technically feasible, though total eradication was not deemed feasible given the current social, economic and political framework. Field tests were conducted at the three project sites: the 12 ha Altitude Reserve on Corvo, the newly-created 3.5 ha Corvo Biological Reserve, and on the small Vila Franca do Campo Islet.

A cat neutering (de-sexing) and tagging programme was conducted by the LIFE project. Domestic cats were identified with a chip and most were sterilized. Feral cats were captured in a total of seven trapping campaigns, with 60 animals being caught, chipped, sterilized and released in areas free of bird nests. The project team ensured that this procedure will continue through local nature conservation and veterinarian entities. Based on a vegetation survey of Corvo Island produced by Azores University, about 35 kg of seeds of endemic flora were collected (mostly Erica azorica and Myrica faya) to sow the Corvo Biological Reserve and to be propagated in a local nursery for transplanting to all project sites. About 10 800 plants were transplanted in project areas on Corvo Island (7 300 plants in the Biological Reserve and 3 500 plants in the Altitude Reserve), and 12 300 were planted on Vila Franca do Campo Islet. Native flora helps create optimal conditions for burrowing birds.

In order to attract Procellariform seabirds to the project sites after rodent removal, 250 nest boxes were placed in the Corvo Biological Reserve and 150 in Vila Franca do Campo Islet; bird-calling systems were also installed.

A census of seabird populations conducted by the LIFE project used combined data from automatic recorders, radar and direct field observations. The nocturnal burrow-nesting behaviour of target seabirds made surveying difficult. Several hundreds Cory’s shearwaters were saved during the campaigns “SOS Cagarro” and a breeding pair was followed online for the first time and seen by more than 25 000 people in 70 countries.

Waste management actions on Corvo Island were successfully concluded, with a more efficient system of recycling boxes being installed. A visitors’ trail was established on Corvo, including five interpretation points with information boards. A web-based virtual Azores sea bird resource was also produced.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Birds


island‚  restoration measure

Target species

 Azorina vidalii   Calonectris diomedea   Erica scoparia ssp. azorica   Frangula azorica   Myosotis maritima   Oceanodroma castro   Picconia azorica   Puffinus assimilis baroli   Sterna dougallii   Sterna hirundo     

Target Habitat types

  • 7130 - Blanket bogs (* if active bog)
  • 1250 - Vegetated sea cliffs with endemic flora of the Macaronesian coasts
  • 4050 - Endemic macaronesian heaths
  • 5320 - Low formations of Euphorbia close to cliffs
  • 6180 - Macaronesian mesophile grasslands

Natura 2000 sites

SPA PTZPE0020 Costa e Caldeirão - Ilha do Corvo
SCI PTCOR0001 Costa e Caldeirão - Ilha do Corvo



Coordinator Sociedades Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description SPEA is a not-for-profit environmental NGO whose mission is to further the study and the conservation of the birds of Portugal and their habitats by promoting sustainable development.
Partners Câmara Municipal do Corvo, Portugal Secretaria Regional do Ambiente e do Mar dos Açores, Portugal RSPB , United Kingdom


Project reference LIFE07 NAT/P/000649
Duration 01-JAN-2009 to 31-DEC -2012
Total budget 1,057,761.00 €
EU contribution 507,118.00 €
Project location Açores(Portugal)


Read more:

Brochure "O Cagarro: A ave do ano Pergunta - Periodico n°1, Segunda-feira 4 abril 2011" (1.02MB)
Brochure "O Cagarro: A ave do ano Pergunta - Periodico n°2 Septembro 2001" (1.57MB)
Brochure "Ilhas santuario para as aves Marinhas (2009-2012)" (1.02MB)
Leaflet "Itinerary : Safe islands for Seabirds" (420 KB)
Poster "Habitat marinho = Marine habitat" (948KB)
Poster "Plantas do Corvo = Corvo Plants" (1.72MB)
Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Communication Plan After-LIFE Communication Plan
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Publication: Technical report Relatório tecnico final do projecto


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version