Waterbirds Disappearing from African-Eurasian Flyways

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, September 15, 2008 (ENS) – Struck by climate change and wetland destruction, 40 percent of the migratory waterbird populations that travel across Africa and Eurasia are in decline, finds a new study presented to delegates at an international migratory waterbird conservation meeting today in Antananarivo.

The main causes of decrease in the 522 bird populations studied are infrastructure development, wetland reclamation, increasing pollution and hunting pressure, according to the report.

Simon Delany, waterbird conservation officer at the Netherlands-based headquarters of Wetlands International and principal author of the report, said, “The main causes of declining waterbird numbers along the African-Eurasian Flyways are the destruction and unsustainable exploitation of wetlands, which are largely driven by poorly-planned economic development.”

The impacts are compounded by climate change and its effects such as increased frequency of droughts, sea-level rise and changes in Arctic tundra habitats.

“Climate change is likely to affect all ecosystems, but wetlands are especially vulnerable because of their sensitivity to changes in water level and susceptibility to changes in rainfall and evaporation.” said Delany.

The white stork, Ciconia ciconia, is typical
bird species in Turkey’s Burdur Lake
(Photo courtesy Wings Over Wetlands)

More than 150 representatives of government and nongovernmental organizations as well as waterbird experts from more than 80 countries are discussing what conservation responses are needed to reverse these declines to meet the target of halting the decline of global biodiversity by 2010.

While at global level, the target is to achieve a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss, the pan-European target is to halt the loss of biodiversity. Since 2006, the 2010 Biodiversity Target has been integrated into the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

“Flyway conservation at work – review of the past, vision for the future” is the theme of the Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds, less formally known as the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement, AWEA.

This treaty seeks to conserve migratory waterbirds such as ducks, waders, storks, flamingos and many others which migrate along the African-Eurasian Flyways.

The 62 countries that have signed the agreement commit to putting measures in place to conserve the region’s waterbird populations and the habitats on which they depend.

“International cooperation is essential in protecting the network of sites required by migratory waterbirds, said Bert Lenten, the executive secretary of AEWA.

Eurasian spoonbills (Photo courtesy
BirdLife International)

“The evidence presented in this report shows that countries will have to have a clear vision as to how to address these challenges and work together to make sure the objectives of this agreement can be met,” Lenten said today.

BirdLife International, a global partnership of bird conservation organizations, is fostering that vision and the cooperation needed to realize it.

“BirdLife are working with partners on the largest international wetland and waterbird conservation initiative ever to take place across the AEWA region,” said Dr. Vicky Jones, BirdLife’s global flyways officer.

She says a highlight of this week’s meeting will include the adoption of new International Action Plans for a number of AEWA species, including the Eurasian spoonbill, Platalea leucorodia.

While the species is not endangered, it is threatened by habitat degradation through drainage and pollution, especially the disappearance of reed swamps due to agricultural and hydroelectric development.

Over-fishing and disturbance have caused Eurasian spoonbill population declines in Greece, and human exploitation of eggs and nestlings for food has threatened the species in the past. The species is also susceptible to avian influenza so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus, according to a factsheet compiled by BirdLife International.

BirdLife is part of the Wings Over Wetlands project, which is working towards international collaboration along the African-Eurasian flyways, improving the availability of waterbird information, building capacity and demonstrating best practice in the conservation and wise-use of wetlands.

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellu, a typical species
in Nigeria’s Hadeija Nguru Wetlands (Photo
courtesy Wings Over Wetlands)

Wings Over Wetlands supports field projects in 11 important wetland areas in 12 countries. These demonstration projects focus on community mobilization, management planning, ecotourism, field research, wetland restoration, control of invasive species, trans-boundary management, education and alternative livelihoods.

The project is also developing the Critical Sites Network Tool, an open access web portal which will improve the availability of information on migratory waterbirds and the sites critical to their survival and help to unify conservation efforts along the flyways.

A training and capacity development framework is being developed which focuses on enhancing the professional capacity and understanding of flyway-scale conservation concepts among conservation professionals and decision makers at various levels across the AEWA region.

Wings Over Wetlands is a joint effort between Wetlands International, BirdLife International, the Global Environment Facility through the United Nations Environment Programme, the Secretariat of the AEWA, the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, the United Nations Office for Project Services and a range of donors and local partners along the African-Eurasian Flyways.

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