Multi-Species Tracking Reveals a Major Seabird Hotspot in the North Atlantic (NACES MPA)

Through a collaborative effort, we analysed a vast amount of seabird tracking data (>2,000 tracks) and identified a major hotspot for foraging seabirds in the middle of the North Atlantic. This hotspot is estimated to be used by more than 5 million seabirds from 21 species throughout the year, with birds coming from at least 56 colonies in 16 different countries


The identified site qualifies as an IBA and can be considered one of the most important concentrations of migratory seabirds in the Atlantic. This important site was designated by the OSPAR Convention as a marine protected area called the North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Sea-basin (NACES) MPA.

Find out more about the species at the site:

Why are the seabirds there?

Many of the seabirds travel great distances to use the site, and we can find them here all year round, suggesting that food availability at the site is consistently high. This is likely supported by the complex oceanography of the site, including the North Atlantic Current, which causes higher primary productivity and may result in higher abundance of mesopelagic prey – a favoured food of seabirds.

Not just seabirds

Studies have also found other animals use the site including various sharks (blue, shortfin mako, and basking), leatherback turtle, and many cetacean species including blue whale, sei whale, and spotted dolphins.

The journey to protection

The hotspot is located in the middle of the North Atlantic in the High Seas but within the jurisdiction of the OSPAR Convention. The protection of this site addresses an important gap in the OSPAR MPA network for seabirds, and also for non-breeding seabirds in general, which are currently poorly represented in protected area networks.

The NACES MPA is the first High Seas MPA to be identified from tracking data.


The Ecological Coherence Assessment of the OSPAR MPA network recognises the lack of sites in the High Seas for protecting seabirds as an important gap (OSPAR 2013).



BirdLife holds a workshop with seabird researchers to discuss the approach for tracking data analyses for the Atlantic (June Reykjavik, Iceland – 17 participants from 8 countries); Seabird tracking data is compiled and analysed.



International team of scientists, led by Dr Ewan Wakefield and including BirdLife researchers (Marguerite Tarzia), transect the NACES area aboard RRS Discovery Cruise DY080; First formal discussion of the NACES MPA proposal at an OSPAR meeting (ICG-MPA 2017, Brest France); Nomination gains official support from France to go to next meeting.



NACES MPA proposal discussion continues; the conservation objectives of the site are focussed only on seabirds; OSPAR conducts a “seeking views process” on the site nomination.



Independent advice from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is addressed in the proforma; The NACES MPA nomination is officially supported by France, Germany, and Sweden, and Intersessional Correspondence Group on Marine Protected Areas (ICG-MPA) supports the proposal moving towards designation.



All OSPAR Contracting Parties agreed the proposal can progress towards designation [Biodiversity Committee meeting, March, online]. OSPAR Ministerial meeting is postponed due to Covid-19, and any announcement on MPA designation is also postponed.2020


The NACES MPA is officially designated on the 1st October at the OSPAR Ministerial Meeting in Cascais, Portugal. Becoming the first high seas MPA to be identified from tracking data.