Vast reserves of fossil fuels and fisheries make the Shetland Isles vital to the UK economy, but the archipelago is also a haven for wildlife at the boundary of Atlantic Ocean and North Sea.
The human population of the islands is outnumbered 40 to 1 by the annual arrival of a million breeding seabirds in spring, yet global seabird populations have declined by 70 per cent since the mid 20th century as a result of human activity. The nesting cities are indicators of marine health, providing a window into life under the waves.
The Shetland archipelago sits near the continental shelf, where warm equatorial currents bring plankton blooms that nourish fish, which in turn feed the birds and populate UK’s pelagic fishery. Populations naturally ebb and flow over time, but increased human pressure reduces the ability of some species to bounce back.
After a few months the birds disperse across the globe and survive in the largest seas on earth. The Arctic tern (down by 72%) covers 24,000 miles in its annual migration to the southern pole. They have adapted to these dangers and trials over millenia but the importance of breeding areas to the species survival is obvious. They offer us a glimpse at the wider global situation.