We have noticed that there is a movement amongst some over-zealous conservationists to claim that recreational craft can be harmful to the well-being of marine bird life because of “disturbance”. Boats may be referred to as “large moving objects” and it is suggested (without any sensible evidence) that they can scare birds away from their feeding grounds, potentially causing them to starve. It is easy to imagine where this is all going – calls to exclude boats from various marine areas.
There are of course good reasons to prevent people from walking through nesting sites, since most seabirds nest on the ground or on rocky ledges, but boats cannot get on to to such nesting sites (unless something goes very wrong indeed!). Most recreational boaters find that it is easier to get close to birds without disturbing them in a boat than on foot. So we thought it worth publishing our views on the tolerance which marine birds generally show to the presence of boats, in an article which may be found here.The article deals with relatively slow-moving boats, perhaps 10 knots or slower. Fast and noisy vessels, such as speedboats, jet skis and planing power boats may need separate consideration.
We suggest that a proper question to ask is actually not “are birds disturbed by boats?”. There is always a distance at which a bird will move away, if only to avoid being run down. The question is how closely can a boat approach a particular bird without disturbing it, and that distance can be surprisingly close. Also, minor disturbance, in which the bird calmly moves a few metres or tens of metres away, may not be a problem at all. After all, most birds’ lives are finely tuned to avoiding trouble and predation.
The pdf article has active links to youtube videos where boats approach closely to seabirds – they open on a PC or an Android device, but not on an iPad. For the convenience of iPad users, the video URL’s are listed below: they will open in a separate window. They also give quick access to the videos without reading the article itself – the first in particular has some brilliant footage of puffins, and they all show fascinating scenes of sea bird life. Our thanks to those who posted their videos online.
(note: in this last video, the bird action starts 5 minutes into the video)
Pictured above, gannets close to the author’s boat, several miles out to sea in the middle of Lyme Bay in summer 2013.