Les Pétrels – based in La Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean – works to protect species of endangered and unique seabirds from the effects of light pollution. Young seabirds, upon leaving their burrows for the first time, look for the moon to guide them to the ocean, where they will spend most of their life. However, the growing number of city lights disorientates them, causing them to fall to the ground. Once grounded, petrels cannot fly back to sea by themselves. Without the coordinated efforts to rescue them, thousands of birds would die on land each year instead of finding their life at sea where they belong.
•Mobilization and training of volunteers
•More trained volunteers on the ground ready to rescue seabirds during peak season
Goal: €14.000,00Donate now
Sea the Work
Yearly budget: € 60.000,00
Budget secured: 76%
La Société d’Études Ornithologiques de La Réunion (SEOR) is an association for the study and conservation of birds in the island. SEOR was established in 1997, with its longest running project being Les Pétrels, dedicated to the rescue of Barau’s petrels (Pterodroma baraui), Mascarene petrels (Pseudobulweria aterrima), Tropical shearwaters (Puffinus bailloni) and Wedge-tailed shearwaters (Ardenna pacifica) in response to the effects of light pollution on fledgling (young birds) attempts’ to reach the ocean from their colonies.
Petrels nest on cliffs and mountain slopes at the center of the island (up to 2.800 meters above sea level for the Barau’s Petrel). When on the island they are strictly nocturnal, which makes them highly sensitive to artificial lights. Light pollution is a substantial problem in La Réunion as the coastal area is densely populated and thus heavily lit at night, creating a barrier of light between petrel colonies and the ocean. When the young birds fly oceanward for the first time – naturally following the light of the moon as reference – some are attracted by the city lights, causing them to fall to the ground in urban areas. Once grounded, a petrel cannot take off and reach the ocean without the assistance of a human and in some cases they need to be rehabilitated due to injuries or feather damage caused by their fall.
Due to the regularity of these events, (occurring during the fledging period of each species), Les Pétrels can appropriately plan and prepare for the mass grounding of fledglings in the months of December, January and April – raising awareness across the island and training volunteers to diagnose and take care of the birds, as well as to assist biologists at the rescue center when needed. Over the years, they have counted on the help of hundreds of volunteers and have successfully rescued and released back to sea more than 36.000 petrels grounded by light pollution.
The project collaborates with some municipalities around the island to reduce the impact of lights on the birds, however this will take time and financial investment. Whilst these changes are not implemented, the project’s goal is to continue their efforts in maintaining the population of Barau’s and Mascarene Petrels, and related species, in La Réunion healthy, as this conflict between human need for lights and the grounding of birds will not disappear soon.
Areas of work
Throughout the year the Les Pétrels team visits around 40 schools, municipalities and various industries to raise awareness about the issues caused by light pollution to the petrels. Les Pétrels prepares citizens for the peak grounding season in December, January and April, providing them with instructions on what to do when a bird is found so that the rescue network can take care of it as quickly as possible. When a grounded bird is found by a local, it is placed in a box and taken to one of the bird-drop off areas around the island until the team or volunteers can come pick them up. Over 100 so-called “relay stations” are scattered across the island, such as fire stations and vets.
Volunteers have a central place in the project, as birds are found all over the island, and during the peak grounding seasons more than 100 birds have to be taken care of each day, which cannot be done by employees alone. Volunteers are trained at the rescue center during the low season to be able to recognize when a grounded petrel they collect at relay stations can be released to sea the next morning, or when it needs to be taken to the rescue center to be rehabilitated. Some are also trained to be able to assist biologists at the rescue center for bird rehabilitation, which is essential during the peak grounding months.
The SEOR rescue center has all the facilities needed to keep and care for the birds. Injuries to grounded petrels can arise from cats, dogs, dehydration or malnutrition. This damage can compromise their water tightness and therefore their chances of survival in the ocean.. With assistance from vets, Les Pétrels rehabilitate them until they are ready to be released into the ocean.
By involving the municipalities of La Réunion in the project activities, they are bringing accountability to the municipalities regarding their lighting systems’ effect on the birds, as well as providing data on actions that could help reduce the number of groundings. This area of work has accomplished small changes in light structures (such as facing streetlights downwards instead of upwards) and the “lights-off” policy for streetlights and stadiums during critical periods for petrel groundings.