Bird-watching can help boost ecotourism industry, says UN environment agency

Photo: World Migratory Bird Day

10 May 2012 – Bird-watching, a popular hobby around the world, can present significant economic opportunities for countries through sustainable tourism, the United Nations environment agency said today, stressing that States should increase efforts to support this growing industry.

“Birding plays a significant and growing part in the tourism industry, and creates direct and indirect economic benefits for many countries and communities, also amongst developing countries,” said the Acting Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, in a news release ahead of World Migratory Bird Day, which is observed on 12-13 May.

Initiated in 2006, the Day is an annual campaign organized by CMS and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) – two intergovernmental wildlife treaties administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which also backs the campaign – and devoted to celebrating migratory birds and promoting their conservation worldwide.

In a news release, UNEP highlighted that global spending on all areas of ecotourism is increasing by about six times the industry-wide rate of growth, and underlined the potential economic benefits of bird-watching in particular.

In the United States, for example, a survey by authorities puts the economic value generated every year by bird and other wildlife watchers at around $32 billion in that country alone. This amount corresponds to the gross domestic product of Costa Rica, which is also a popular destination for US birdwatchers.

In Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds found that last year, between $8-12 million is spent annually by tourists wishing to see White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull alone, and that four per cent of jobs in Scotland are associated with wildlife tourism.

World Migratory Bird Day seeks to spotlight these benefits while also raising awareness of the importance of protecting birds, which face a series of challenges each year in their journeys.

“Conserving migratory birds is highly challenging because their annual migration often spans several countries, each governed by its own jurisdiction and national conservation strategies,” Ms. Mrema said.

Events to mark the Day are due to take place in 70 countries, including bird festivals, education programmes, presentations, film screenings and bird watching trips, run by hundreds of volunteers and organizations.

The Day will be followed by an AEWA intergovernmental conference on migratory waterbirds, which will take place on 14-18 May in La Rochelle, France, and will focus on the role that wetlands play as a vital habitat for migratory birds and people and as a source of livelihoods for communities, particularly in Africa.

“It is absolutely critical that governments use the forthcoming meeting, to continue to do all they can to work together to try to safeguard, retain and where feasible restore high quality habitats – and to begin to link the conservation of migratory birds to human development and livelihoods on a flyway scale,” said the Acting Executive Secretary of AEWA, Marco Barbieri.


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