Seabirds in Indonesia

Indonesia is among the most important country in South-East Asia for pelagic seabirds. Made up of 17,000 islands spanning 5,000 km of the equator, Indonesian territory is 75% ocean. Despite this, seabird conservation has never been rated a high priority by governmental or non-governmental agencies alike and the consequences of this have been dramatic. Around 80% of the known seabird breeding colonies in Indonesia have been abandoned since the 1900s leaving only a handful active, all under imminent threat. Meanwhile the importance of Indonesian waters as a passage migration and foraging area for non-breeding birds, or the threats to them, remains very poorly understood.

Around 50 species of seabirds have been recorded in Indonesian waters, approximately 30 of which occur regularly. Around 15 more species may occur, but the survey effort to date has been so sparse that few conclusions can be drawn. Species for which Indonesia is of conservation importance are shown in the table below.

The conservation needs of seabirds in Indonesia has been a neglected area, receiving only sporadic attention. This is as much a consequence of a lack of leadership as much as a lack of resources, while the priority setting exercises of both governmental and non-governmental agencies have often failed, by their very methodology, to recognise the needs of pelagic seabirds.

Indonesian seabirds of conservation importance

Species IUCN* Importance of Indonesia
Christmas Island Frigatebird CR Main foraging and non-breeding roost location
Chinese Crested Tern CR Largely unknown use as wintering location.
Barau’s Petrel EN May be regular non-breeding visitor Sumatra/Java
Abbott’s Booby EN Uncommon non-breeding bird, may breed in east.
Jouanin’s Petrel NT May be regular non-breeding visitor Sumatra/Java
Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel LC Main passage migration route to Indian Ocean
Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrel DD Main passage migration route to Indian Ocean
Streaked Shearwater LC Main passage migration route to Indian Ocean
White-tailed Tropicbird LC Widespread breeding resident
Red-tailed Tropicbird LC Breeding resident, now restricted to a few islands.
Masked Booby LC Scarce breeder, now restricted to a few islands.
Brown Booby LC Breeding resident, now restricted to a few islands.
Red-footed Booby LC Breeding resident, now restricted to a few islands.

* Status (IUCN 2010): CR Critically Endangered; EN Endangered; NT Near-threatened; DD Data deficient; LC Least concern.

Burung Laut Indonesia

Burung Laut Indonesia (‘Seabirds Indonesia’) was formed in early 2009 by local ornithologists passionate about seabirds and their conservation. With small-grant funding Burung Laut Indonesia initiated its first project, the Indonesian Seabird Survey (‘ISSUE’) by conducting two 2-day survey expeditions in the Sunda Strait with volunteers from local NGOs. One year on, there is now a both a growing number of enthusiasts and a greater awareness of seabirds and their conservation. Burung Laut Indonesia members are all volunteers, many working for NGOs or government agencies within Indonesia.

Our goal is to see seabird conservation properly recognised on the national agenda. We will achieve this by raising the profile of seabird conservation, raising stakeholder capacity, and by developing innovative and practical solutions to protect breeding, foraging and migration areas.

Conservation priorities

There has never been a systematic review of the conservation needs of seabirds in Indonesia. The most comprehensive study published to date is the excellent review of seabird breeding islands in Indonesia conducted by Korte and Silvius (1994); now over 20 years old. Below we summarise what we consider the current conservation priorities for seabirds in Indonesia.


1. Conservation of seabird breeding islands

Six high priority sites exist; those known to still support significant number of breeding seabirds and including the islands of Sarege, Kakabia, Moromaho, Gunungapi, Manuk and Suanggi (see map). In 1994 these islands were estimated to support around 2,000 Red-tailed Tropicbird, 5,000 Brown Booby, 10,000 Red-footed Booby, and 2,000+ Greater Friagtebirds, plus small numbers of Masked Booby. Systematic survey data is lacking since, but based on ad hoc reports at least three of these islands still supported breeding birds in 2009.

In addition to these known islands, a least 25 other islands have supported breeding seabird colonies that are either now extinct, on their fate unknown. An even larger number of potential breeding islands have never even been assessed. Surveying these former and potential breeding islands may reveal important information regarding Abbot’s Booby: This endangered species is now only known to breed on Christmas Island but a spate of sightings in the Banda Sea since the 1980s has raised the possibility that there are birds breeding locally. Activities required include:

  1. Assess current status of breeding birds on known islands and assess threats; develop management plan for each site in collaboration with management authorities, local government and local stakeholders.
  2. Secure legal status; In the case of unprotected areas develop a plan to secure legal protection, including exploring options for private purchase/easement.
  3. Secure active management based on tried-and-tested or innovative models, in line with management plans developed for each island; Include options for local wardens, local stewardship, management agency control, military or NGO control. Explore sustainable financing options including tourism levies. Initiate pest control if applicable.
  4. Raise awareness and capacity among stakeholders and management authorities.
  5. Assess current status on other potential islands. Implement steps as above as appropriate.

2. Conservation of Christmas Island Frigatebird

Critically endangered with a global population currently estimated below 5,000. The seas around West Java are one of the main foraging and non-breeding roosting sites for the species. The Jakarta Bay in particular has been seen to support as much as 10% of the global population on a single day! Despite this almost no quantitative assessment has ever been made of use or threats and no action has been taken to promote the conservation of the species within Indonesian waters. Activities required include:

  1. Year round monitoring of Christmas Island frigatebird in the Jakarta Bay and surrounds, to identify usage and demographics. Quantify seasonal use of Sunda Straits as a key migration corridor between Christmas Island and the Sunda Shelf (see also below).
  2. Assess threats to birds within Jakarta Bay and Sunda Straits through interview-based survey of target groups (fishermen, fishing trap owners, fisheries and shipping agencies, harbour police, military, boat operators). Raise awareness of protected status among target groups.
  3. Work with management authorities of Pulau Rambut, Muara Angke, and Pulau Seribu terrestrial protected areas to extent protection to Christmas Island Frigatebirds within the Jakarta Bay. Facilitate Increased collaboration between other stakeholders.

3. Passage migration through the Sunda & Lombok Straits

The Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, and the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok, are two of the most important passage migration routes in Indonesia. Key species using them as a migration route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans include Swinhoe’s and Matsudaira’s Petrel, Streaked Shearwater and Christmas Island Frigatebird. To date little work has been conducted to quantify the importance of either area, or to evaluate threats to migrating seabirds. These threats now include the proposed construction of a road bridge across the Sunda Straits; a process that so far has made no consideration of the potential impact on migrating birds. Activities required include:

  1. Year round ship-borne monitoring of migrating seabirds and threat assessment, focused in particular on the Aug-October and Mar-May migration seasons.
  2. Awareness and capacity building among users of both straits, including fishermen, ferry companies, tourist boat operators and government management agencies.
  3. Direct lobbying to planning agencies, constructors and investors of the Sunda Strait bridge plan to ensure adequate consideration is made of impact on seabirds.

4. Exploration & survey: Key foraging areas

The non-breeding use by seabirds of seas around Indonesia remains poorly known. Three areas merit specific attention and merit ship-borne surveys. These in turn may identify further needs.

  1. Java Trench/West Sumatran Islands area: The Java Trench runs 3,000 km from the tip of Sumatra to beyond Bali. Along its Sumatra border is lined by a chain of small islands. Sporadic survey work in this area has revealed the presence of the endangered Barau’s Petrel, Abbots Booby and Hutton’s Shearwater and the near-threatened Jouanin’s & Tahiti Petrels. Further work is needed to determine how regularly birds use this area, and to assess any threats.
  2. Coastal Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Halmahera: Survey potential wintering grounds of Chinese Crested Tern. Critically endangered with a global population estimated to be no more than 50 pairs, the wintering grounds of this species remain largely unknown, but based on a handful of previous records are likely to include northern Indonesia. If birds are located asses threats and follow-up as appropriate
  3. The Celebes Sea: Even less is known about seabirds use north of Sulawesi and Maluku around the confluence of the Celebes & Philippine Seas and the Pacific Ocean. This may hold Hawaiian Petrel (vulnerable), Tropical Shearwater, possibly White-necked Petrel (vulnerable) or maybe even Beck’s Petrel and Chinese Crested Tern (both critically endangered)

5. Capacity building, political and public awareness

Seabird conservation is very low on the public and political agenda. In turn, few agencies possess, or even seek to possess, the capacities required for effective seabird management; no agency takes a lead role; and agencies that could collaborate don’t. The situation is often little better between non-governmental actors, with none currently championing the cause of seabirds in Indonesia. Activities required include:

  1. A concerted campaign of mass-media coverage, reports, journal publications and internet posting of seabird conservation-related material. Seeking to raise profile among general public, politicians and key stakeholder groups.
  2. Interagency workshop and action plans to identify roles and responsibilities.
  3. Training workshops in monitoring methods, breeding island management, invasive pest control delivered to management agencies, NGO partners and key stakeholders.

Further Information

For more information contact Iwan Londo, Fransisca Noni or Nick Brickle.