Earlier today, a birding, blogging friend drew attention to an article suggesting (what a surprise) that the more that people trawl the sea and remove the fish, the fewer seabirds there are going to be … indeed, the fewer seabirds there already are. You can read the article here: http://goo.gl/iGtgN7 … and so this article is not about my patch, but it’s more important.
This put me in mind of an occasion, must have been thirty years ago or thereabouts, on our second or third visit to Shetland. J and I were up on the north-western side of the main island where there are some stupendously high cliffs. I am not sure of exactly where we were, but it must have been in the vicinity of Eshaness, somewhere around here: http://goo.gl/z48sZM
Anyway, it was getting on in the afternoon and we sat down on some handy rocks at the top of the cliff for a rest and a snack and were facing due west where, as we all know, the sun sets. It wasn’t anywhere near sunset, but the sun was over in that direction and lowering itself towards the sea so that all the waves for miles (we were way up high and could probably have seen Newfoundland if it weren’t for the curve of the planet) were bright and silvery and as we looked out we became aware that there were birds everywhere.
The picture that accompanies this was taken at Eshaness … not mine, they didn’t have digital cameras with tele-lenses 30 years ago and I certainly couldn’t have afforded one if they did – this one was borrowed from the local tourist board (thank you).
Of course, we expected birds near the cliffs, that was one reason we were there, but beyond them there were more birds and beyond them more still as far as binocular-aided eye could see. Tens and tens of thousands of birds quartering the waves looking for food and we, being so high, were looking down on them. I don’t think that I have ever seen so many birds within sight of one place in my life. A spectacular and sobering sight that I can still remember so clearly all these years later; probably one of the highlights of a life spent looking at wildlife.
In the years since, the seabirds of Shetland have not done so well. Largely for all the reasons in the article above – the forage-fish they depend on have been heavily overfished to supply fishmeal to Poland or something. I confess that I had feared that the vast numbers of birds we had seen would be drastically reduced if we ever went back – and that would be just too sad to do. However, while thinking about this small note I came across an article in the Shetland News which rather gives me hope that the worst may be past … http://goo.gl/E8ibZV
People really have to stop misbehaving.
In other, but not unrelated news, today I learned that 15% of the world’s population depends almost entirely on harvesting wild creatures for food, mostly fish. They don’t do it sensibly and they don’t do it sustainably. Time that somebody knocked their heads together.