ISLAMABAD: The annual migration of an estimated 50 billion birds — around 19 per cent of the world’s 10,000 bird species — is one of the world’s great natural wonders, yet the critical staging areas migratory birds need to complete these journeys are being degraded or are disappearing altogether, according to United Nations Environment Programme reports.
These highly vulnerable sites, which act as stepping stones on migration routes, serve as a place for the birds to rest, feed and breed during their annual migration cycles. As a result of the degradation, some species may be extinct within a decade, while others are facing population losses of up to nine per cent each year.
Celebrated in over 65 countries on 11-12 May, World Migratory Bird Day 2013 will highlight the importance of ecological networks for the survival of migratory birds, the important human networks dedicated to their conservation, the threats migratory birds face, and the need for more international cooperation to conserve them.
Events to mark World Migratory Bird Day will include bird festivals, education programmes, presentations, film screenings and birdwatching trips.
“I fully support the global campaign to raise awareness about the threats to migratory birds from habitat destruction, overexploitation, pollution and climate change,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “I call for greater international efforts to restore and preserve migratory birds and the network of sites they need to survive as an important part of the environment on which we all depend.”
Launched in Kenya in 2006, World Migratory Bird Day is organized by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA)—two intergovernmental wildlife treaties administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Many migrating birds—such as Cranes, Storks, Shorebirds and Eagles—travel thousands of kilometers across flyways that span countries, continents and even the entire globe. Yet pressures resulting from a growing human population, rapid urbanization, pollution, climate change and unsustainable use of natural areas are causing the loss, fragmentation and degradation of natural habitats along the birds’ migration routes and threatening their survival.
Similar to a human transport system of harbors, airports and roads, migratory birds depend on these international networks of natural sites for food, safety, breeding and moulting—as well as for stopover areas which act as refueling stations between breeding and non-breeding areas.
Stopover sites of international importance for migratory waterbirds include the Wadden Sea, shared by Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark; Banc d’Arguin on the west coast of Mauritania; Bahia de Santa Maria in Mexico and the Saemangeum tidal flat in the Yellow Sea in South Korea.
Migratory waterbird species that depend on a network of intertidal habitats along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) are showing rapid decline and are amongst the world’s most-threatened migratory birds. The decline is mainly caused by the fast pace of coastal land reclamation occurring in this densely populated region, particularly around key coastal staging areas in the Yellow Sea.
According to a 2011 report commissioned by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the rates of decline in the region are among the highest of any ecological system in the world. At least 24 waterbird species using the flyway are heading towards extinction and many others are facing losses of five to nine per cent per year. According to the IUCN report, species such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper could become extinct within a decade.
“Migratory birds and the challenges they face in many ways underline the ambition of multilateralism in a globalized world—it is only when countries work together in common cause that the survival and conservation of these species be ensured,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
“There are many reasons why migratory birds should be conserved—their beauty and behavior are a source of joy and inspiration for millions upon millions of people,” he added. “But they also are part of the web of life that underpins nature’s multi-trillion-dollar ecosystem services, while being in some countries, including Kenya, part of the nature-based tourism that generates 10 per cent of the nation’s GDP.”
This year, World Migratory Bird Day events will be celebrated in countries which share the African-Eurasian Flyways. In Kenya, for instance, a regional event will take place on the shores of Lake Elementaita—part of the Kenya Lakes Systems, a network of sites that supports 11 globally threatened bird species.
The area also sustains 75 per cent of the near-threatened Lesser Flamingo, and Lake Elementaita is known to be one of the world’s major breeding colonies of the Great White Pelican. The event is being hosted by the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) in cooperation with the UNEP/CMS and UNEP/AEWA Secretariats.
“The key message behind World Migratory Bird Day is that countries, dedicated organizations and people around the world need to work together to ensure that migratory birds can continue to travel, refuel and reach their destinations,” said Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretary of the CMS.
The global World Migratory Bird Day campaign is backed by a growing number of international partners, including: BirdLife International, Wetlands International, the Secretariat of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP), the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) and UNEP.
In order to protect crucial staging grounds and thus conserve bird species, sophisticated systems such as the AEWA Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool are helping to summarize current knowledge about the network of sites used by migratory waterbirds in the African-Eurasian region.
The Report on the Site Network for Waterbirds in the AEWA Agreement Area, prepared by Wetlands International and BirdLife International using the CSN Tool information as a basis, revealed that less than half of the critical sites of AEWA waterbird populations had adequate protection.
“If maintained and continuously improved, this information can significantly help conservation efforts, but it is also revealing some disturbing gaps as the recent site network report has shown,” said Marco Barbieri, Acting Executive Secretary of AEWA. “The bigger challenge, which has become obvious from the AEWA report, is that countries need to increase their efforts to fill the gaps in terms of adequate legal protection status and management of these sites.”
The story published first in Lahore Times on May 11, 2013.