Seabirds have suffered dramatic declines in population over recent decades. The most abundant seabirds of tropical oceans are Sooty Terns Onychoprion fuscatus and they have an IUCN Red List category of ‘Least Concern’. Ascension Island has the largest colony of Sooty Terns in the Atlantic Ocean and censuses between 1990 and 2013 have shown that its population size is static. In this study we have used historical data and recent censuses to describe the population status of Sooty Terns on Ascension Island over a century. We show that the breeding population contained over 2 million individuals in the 1870s and remained at this level for at least 70 years. However, the population declined from >2 million birds in 1942 to 350,000 birds by 1990. The population trend spanning a period equivalent to three generations of the species (63 years; 1942 to 2005) showed an approximate 84% decline in population size. Using IUCN criteria this suggests that Sooty Terns on Ascension could be considered ‘Critically Endangered’. We conclude that a re-evaluation of Sooty Tern conservation status is necessary at the local level and possibly globally. Our study highlights that for long-lived species historic demographic data should be considered when determining conservation status.
- Tropical pelagic seabirds
- Historical population size
- IUCN Red List
- United Kingdom Overseas Territories