Failure to protect wetlands puts migratory waterbirds at risk – UN

14 June 2010 – Efforts to conserve migratory waterbirds are being threatened by the lack of protection of key wetlands used by the birds as they traverse Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia, according to an inter-agency information website launched today with the support of the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP).

Migratory waterbirds, such as waders, terns and geese, need an unbroken chain of wetlands to complete their annual life-cycles, according to the new information tool dubbed “Critical Site Network (CSN),” jointly developed by Wetlands International, BirdLife International and the UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

One third of the critical wetlands, the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems, are entirely unprotected and as a result, an alarming 42 per cent of the migratory waterbird species are in decline, according to the website. The same wetlands benefit people by providing clean water and opportunities for fishing, agriculture, recreation and tourism.

“The Critical Site Network Tool will provide an unprecedented level of access to information for all waterbird species covered by the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA),” said Bert Lenten, Executive Secretary of AEWA, an international wildlife treaty administered by UNEP.

“It brings together for the first time some of the most current and comprehensive information available internationally on the species and the sites they use,” he added. “To target conservation efforts effectively, access to reliable information about the critical sites that migratory waterbirds depend upon, and the ecological requirements of these species, is key,” Mr. Lenten stressed.

Marco Lambertini, Chief Executive of BirdLife International, said the CSN identifies priority sites for the protection of migratory waterbirds and highlights knowledge gaps, revealing that many stop-over and non-breeding localities were still not well known.

“Only by combining adequate knowledge, targeted action, appropriate funding and local capacity on the ground will we be able to make a difference for migratory species,” he added.

The tool, whose development was partly funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an international environment financing organization, provides comprehensive information on 294 waterbird species from 3,020 sites. It is designed to make information easily available on the most important sites for migratory waterbirds, both at the national and international level.

In a related development, new conservation plans for the Siberian crane have been endorsed to save the species from extinction, UNEP reported during a meeting of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in Bonn today.

“During the International Year of Biodiversity, CMS continues to protect this majestic bird and its wetland habitats that are critical to humans and species alike,” said CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema. “Not only [do] these ecosystems supply drinking water, but they act as a flood defence and as carbon sink to mitigate climate change,” she added.

During its annual migration the Siberian crane travels 5,000 kilometres from its breeding grounds in western Siberia and Yakutia, intermediate resting and feeding places, to its wintering sites in southern China and Iran.

In the course of these journeys along three migration routes, called flyways, they overcome considerable obstacles such as high mountains and vast deserts. Major threats such as hunting in West and Central Asia and the drainage of critical wetlands in East Asia put them at an even greater risk. Only 3,000 to 3,500 birds remain globally.

Conservation efforts include the launch earlier this year of the Siberian Crane Wetland Project (SCWP) with a $10.3 million financing from GEF, which was initiated to make the journey of Siberian cranes and other waterbirds safer through securing major waterbird habitats.

The project has succeeded in safeguarding a network of 16 critical wetlands for waterbirds in China, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia while securing water flows to sustain wetland ecosystem services including supplying purified water to millions of people in the Eurasian region, according to UNEP.

An expansion of the critical site network and infrastructure established during the development of the SCWP will now be applied to hot spots in 11 countries that are signatories to UNEP’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

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