|In 1992, the Institute of Nature Conservation started ship-based surveys on the Belgian Continental Shelf to study the spatial and temporal distribution of sea- and coastal birds. This pilot study was carried out in co-operation with the Management Union of the North Sea Mathematical Models (MUMM contract BH/94/42) and WWF. Since 1997, the study of birds at the Belgian part of the North Sea was intensified within the framework of the Program of Sustainable Management of the North Sea of OSTC (MN/DD/41). Among other things, these studies showed that the Belgian marine waters hold internationally important numbers (> 1% of the geographical populations) of several coastal and marine bird species. Also the area proved to be of major importance for several species of migratory birds. Of some migratory species (almost) the entire geographical population is known to pass through the narrow Channel area.
Although extensive work on seabirds has been carried out so far, there are still important gaps. Some parts of the Belgian marine waters, for example, were (almost) never visited during previous studies. The causal aspects of the distribution of birds at sea is far from being understood. The temporal, horizontal and vertical distribution of pelagic fish that serve as food for fish-eating seabirds, for example, is practically unknown. Strong shifts in the foraging areas and diet composition of terns breeding at the outer harbour of Zeebrugge indicate that the availability and distribution of their food heavily fluctuates, but links with dynamics of the fish population was never established. Too fill these hiati the Institute of Nature Conservation in collaboration with the University of Gent wants to perform measurements of pelagic fish abundance at the BCP and link these to the distribution patterns of seabirds.|