Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs)

  published: 12 Jun 2015

Agulhas Front

General Information
The Agulhas Front is the eastward extension of the Agulhas Current, which connects water from south-western Africa to the subtropical and sub-Antarctic waters as far east as the French southern territories of Amsterdam and St Paul islands. The site has uniquely high productivity within areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) of the Indian Ocean and supports a significant diversity of biota, including charismatic and threatened species such as southern bluefin tuna, southern right whales, pinnipeds and seabirds, including the endemic critically endangered Amsterdam albatross.
The Agulhas Front is the eastward extension of the Agulhas Current, which connects water from south-western Africa to subtropical and sub-Antarctic waters (Belkin and Gordon 1996, Kostianoy, et al. 2004). The Agulhas Front is a region of high productivity, ranging from approximately 900 mg C/m2 to 400 mg C/m2. These levels of productivity are not seen elsewhere in ABNJ in the Indian Ocean. This productivity supports a large number of species, including a high diversity of seabird species, pinnipeds, extensive areas of southern bluefin tuna and historically large numbers of southern right whales. There is limited information on other taxa but given many of the above are top predators, their associated food chains must be occurring within the area.
Description of the location
Southern Indian Ocean
20oE to 83o E and 36oS to 44oS. It is located in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction within the Indian Ocean.
DISCLAIMER: The designations employed and the presentation of material in this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
Area Details
At Saint-Paul and Amsterdam islands, 125 species of marine fishes have been identified (29 neritics, 72 pelagics, 24 deep-sea fishes (Duhamel, synthesis in progress) as well as three species of pinnipeds (Milounga leonina, Hydrurga leptnonyx and Arctocephalus tropicalis) and one endemic bird, the Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis), which breeds only on Amsterdam Island, reproduces only one recruit every second year and numbers only 30 pairs per year. The rest of the area is used as a feeding area by very large numbers of seabirds that travel here from colonies in sub-Antarctic, tropical and temperate areas, both within and beyond the Indian Ocean. Tracking data from PTT, GLS and GPS devices has shown that it is a globally significant feeding area for five threatened species of seabirds from nine colonies and is used during 16 life-history stages. This data has shown that the Critically Endangered Amsterdam albatross feeds in this area in globally significant numbers in all months of the year and that the site is particularly important for various life- history stages, including incubation and post-guard breeding stages, as well as during juvenile stages and during the non-breeding season. Other species found here include: • Endangered Barau’s petrel tracked from Reunion Island using GLS occur in this area in globally significant numbers to feed between November and May (Pinet et al. 2011a, b, in press). • Endangered Indian yellow-nosed albatross tracked from Amsterdam Island during incubation, and from Prince Edward Island during post-guard period • Endangered sooty albatross from Crozet Island during incubation and non-breeding. • Vulnerable wandering albatross from Crozet Island during the post-guard breeding period and during immature and juvenile stages; from Prince Edward Island during the post-guard breeding period; and from South Georgia during fledgling and immature stages.
Waters around Saint-Paul and Amsterdam islands are protected and managed. Albatross species are particularly susceptible to by-catch in fisheries, which have been identified as the main cause of significant declines for several of the species found in this area (Anderson et al., 2009).
Anderson, O., Wanless, R., Small, C., 2009. Seabird By-catch in IOTC Longline Fisheries. BirdLife International. IOTC-2009-SC-INF14. Belkin, IM and Gordon Al (1996) Southern Ocean fronts from the Greenwich meridian to Tasmania. Journal of Geophysical Research 101:3675-3696. Behrenfeld, M G and Falkowski PG (1997): Photosyntheticrates derived from satellite-based chlorophyll concentration. Limnol. Oceanogr., 42, 1–20. BirdLife International (2009) Designing networks of marine protected areas: exploring the linkages between Important Bird Areas and ecologically or biologically significant marine areas. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International. www.cbd.int/doc/meetings/mar/ewbcsima-01/other/ewbcsima-01-birdlife-02-en.pdf BirdLife International (2010) Marine Important Bird Areas toolkit: standardised techniques for identifying priority sites for the conservation of seabirds at-sea. BirdLife International, Cambridge UK. Version 1.1: May 2010. International Whaling Commission. 2001. Report of the workshop on the comprehensive assessment of right whales: a worldwide comparison. Journal of Cetcaean Research and Management 2: 1-60 Kostianoy, AG et al. (2004) Fronts in the Southern Indian Ocean as inferred from satellite sea surface temperature data. Journal of Marine Systems 45:55–73 Le Corre M, Pinet P, Kappes MA, Weimerskirch H, Catry T, Ramos J, Russell J, Shah N, Jaquemet S (2012) Tracking seabirds to identify potential marine protected areas in the tropical Indian Ocean: a review. Biological Conservation (in press) Pinet P, Jaeger A, Cordier E, Potin G, Le Corre M (2011b). Celestial Moderation of Tropical Seabird Behavior. Plos One 6 e27663 Pinet P, Jaquemet S, Phillips R A, Le Corre M. Sex-specific foraging strategies throughout the breeding season in a tropical sexually monomorphic small petrel. Animal Behaviour (in press). Pinet P, Jaquemet S, Pinaud D, Weimerskirch H, Phillips RA, Le Corre M (2011a). Migration, wintering distribution and habitat use of an endangered tropical seabird, Barau’s petrel Pterodroma baraui. Marine Ecology Progress Series 423: 291-302. UNEP/CBD/RW/EBSA/SIO/1/2. Dunstan PK and Fuller M (2012) Data to inform the CBD Southern Indian Ocean Regional Workshop to Facilitate the Description of Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas. www.seabirdtracking.org – tracking contributors who provided data presented at this workshop are: Maria Ana Dias, Paulo Catry, Teresa Catry, Robert Crawford, Richard Cuthbert, Karine Delord, Jacob Gonzalez-Solis, Jano Hennicke, Matthieu Le Corre, Deon Nel, Malcolm Nicoll, Jose Pedro Granadeiro, Samantha Petersen, Richard Phillips, Patrick Pinet, Jaime Ramos, Jean-Baptiste Thiebot, Ross Wanless, Henri Weimerskirch, Vikash Tatayah www.birdlife.org/eu/pdfs/Marine_IBA_Toolkit_2010.pdf
Status of submission
Areas described as meeting EBSA criteria that were considered by the Conference of the Parties
  • dec-COP-12-DEC-22
Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA criteria
C1: Uniqueness or rarity High
This is the only high productivity oceanographic feature in the southern Indian Ocean (UNEP/CBD/RW/EBSA/SIO/1/2) and one of the most important feeding areas for seabirds in the southern oceans (www.seabirdtracking.org) Amsterdam Albatross breeds only on the french territory of Amsterdam Island, and its key areas are found within this area meeting EBSA criteria.
C2: Special importance for life-history stages of species High
Whaling records from the 19th century indicate that this is an area with high concentrations of southern right whales (UNEP/CBD/RW/EBSA/SIO/1/2). Tracking data shows that the area is known to be of global significance for 16 life-history stages of seabirds (www.seabirdtracking.org). These include: • Amsterdam Albatross from Amsterdam Island in various life history-stages, including incubation and post-guard breeding stages as well as during juvenile stages and during the non-breeding season. • Barau’s petrel from Reunion Island during breeding season (Pinet et al. 2011a, b, in press) • Indian yellow-nosed albatross from Amsterdam Island during incubation • Indian yellow-nosed albatross from Prince Edward Island during post guard period • Sooty albatross from Crozet Island during incubation and non-breeding season, • Sooty albatross during juvenile stage. • Wandering albatross from Crozet Island during the post-guard breeding period and during immature and juvenile stages; • Wandering albatross from Prince Edward Island during the post-guard breeding period • Wandering albatross from South Georgia during fledgling and immature stages. Other species breeding on Prince Edward Island known to feed here, include Antarctic tern, white-bellied storm-petrel and sooty albatross. It is also likely to be of key importance for a number of other un-tracked seabird species from the other island groups in the region.
C3: Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats High
Critically Endangered southern bluefin tuna occur throughout the area meeting EBSA criteria. Tracking data shows that five species of threatened albatross, from nine colonies, are found within the area; these are: Critically Endangered Amsterdam albatross, Endangered Barau’s petrel, Endangered Indian yellow-nosed albatross, Endangered sooty albatross, Vulnerable wandering albatross
C4: Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery Medium
Southern Right Whales are subject to mortality due to entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with shipping (IWC 2001). All seabird species are long-lived and slow at reproducing, leaving them prone to slow recovery after population declines, which often occur as a result of fisheries by-catch (Anderson et al. 2009).
C5: Biological productivity High
The area shows high productivity, calculated from the vertically generalized production model (Behrenfeld and Falkowski, 1997, UNEP/CBD/RW/EBSA/SIO/1/2)
C6: Biological diversity Medium
The seabird community found within this area is one of the most diverse in the world. There is limited information on other taxa but given that many of the species known to occur here are top predators, their associated food chains must be occurring within the area, suggesting there is likely to be at least “medium” biological diversity.
C7: Naturalness Low
The area has seen significant use since the 18th century and has an extensive history of whaling and fishing (UNEP/CBD/RW/EBSA/SIO/1/2). However, the area remains naturally highly productive, and there are still large numbers of seabirds feeding here, suggesting the system is at least partly still natural (UNEP/CBD/RW/EBSA/SIO/1/2). Areas within the French EEZ are considered to exhibit a high degree of naturalness.
Additional Information
The areas included here meet one or more of the BirdLife criteria for defining Important Bird Areas. (BirdLife International, 2010) BirdLife Important Bird Areas Criteria (BirdLife 2009, 2010) A1 Regular presence of threatened species A4ii >1% of the global population of a seabird