Disturbance of a rare seabird by ship-based tourism in a marine protected area

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Managers of marine protected areas (MPAs) must often seek ways to allow for visitation while minimizing impacts to the resources they are intended to protect. Using shipboard observers, we quantified the “zone of disturbance” for Kittlitz’s and marbled murrelets (Brachyramphus brevirostris and B. marmoratus) exposed to large cruise ships traveling through Glacier Bay National Park, one of the largest MPAs in North America. In the upper reaches of Glacier Bay, where Kittlitz’s murrelets predominated, binary logistic regression models predicted that 61% of all murrelets within 850 m perpendicular distance of a cruise ship were disturbed (defined as flushing or diving), whereas in the lower reaches, where marbled murrelets predominated, this percentage increased to 72%. Using survival analysis, murrelets in both reaches were found to react at greater distances when ships approached indirectly, presumably because of the ship’s larger profile, suggesting murrelets responded to visual rather than audio cues. No management-relevant covariates (e.g., ship velocity, route distance from shore) were found to be important predictors of disturbance, as distance from ship to murrelet accounted for > 90% of the explained variation in murrelet response. Utilizing previously published murrelet density estimates from Glacier Bay, and applying an average empirical disturbance probability (68%) out to 850 m from a cruise ship’s typical route, we estimated that a minimum of 9.8–19.6% of all murrelets in Glacier Bay are disturbed per ship entry. Whether these disturbance levels are inconsistent with Park management objectives, which include conserving wildlife as well as providing opportunities for visitation, depends in large part on whether disturbance events caused by cruise ships have impacts on murrelet fitness, which remains uncertain.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Disturbance of a rare seabird by ship-based tourism in a marine protected area
Series title PLoS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0176176
Volume 12
Issue 5
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher PLOS
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description e0176176; 23 p.
First page 1
Last page 23
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Glacier Bay National Park
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