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Publications archive - Biodiversity

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy: 1996-2000

Wetlands International - Asia Pacific
International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau - Japan Committee (IWRB-J), 1996
ISBN 983 9663 18 6


Note: This publication has been superseded by Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy: 2001-2005

1. Introduction

At least 404 species of waterbird are recorded in the Asia-Pacific region. Of these, 243 species, by virtue of their nature, undertake annual migrations between their breeding areas and non-breeding grounds, along several different flyways. They visit at least 57 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region. A few of these species undertake some of the greatest non-stop flights in the world, covering at least 6,000 km in one step. During their annual migration, waterbirds halt at sites for very short periods of time to rest and feed - "stepping stones" that essential for migration and crucial to their survival and well-being. Conservation of migratory waterbirds is very clearly a collective responsibility of all countries in the flyway and forms the focus of this Strategy. The conservation of species that are resident within any one country is equally important, but may be considered primarily a national responsibility and thus does not fall within the scope of this Strategy.


Waterbirds are broadly defined as: "birds ecologically dependent on wetlands" and include traditionally recognized groups popularly known as wildfowl, waterfowl and shorebirds and waders. In addition to these groups, there are other species groups that are dependent on wetlands such as the kingfishers, birds of prey and passerines. While these birds would benefit from efforts undertaken to conserve waterbirds, they are not the focus of this Strategy.


Waterbirds play an important role in several spheres of human interest: culturally, socially, scientifically and as a food resource. Several species, such as cranes, swans, geese and ducks, are revered. Waterbirds are an important component of most wetland ecosystems, as they occupy several trophic levels in the food web of wetland nutrient cycles. Birds harvest and regulate the abundance and diversity of several species of wetland flora and fauna. Many species also play a role in the control of agricultural pests, whilst some species are themselves considered pests of certain crops. After fish, birds are probably the most important faunal group that attract people to wetlands. For these and other reasons, waterbirds are held with great respect by many communities in the region.

Loss of waterbird habitats through direct and indirect modifications and non-sustainable utilization of waterbirds for human needs have led to declines in several waterbird populations and number of species. Some of the most catastrophic declines have taken place in the last few decades, and the list of threatened species in the region has expanded rapidly to include species from a whole variety of waterbird groups. Whilst the decline of some populations has been well documented, for example, Baikal Teal Anas formosa, Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes and Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon, the fate of several others remains unknown. According to the newly developed IUCN criteria in Birds to Watch 2 published in 1994, thirteen species of waterbird occurring in the Asia-Pacific were identified as being critically endangered, and some of these may already have become extinct. Of these, five are migratory species (Table 1). The five critically threatened migratory species are White-eared Night-heron Gorsachius magnificus, Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor, Crested Shelduck Tadorna cristata, Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris and Chinese Crested Tern Sterna bernsteini.

Table 1. Overview of the status of Waterbirds in the Asia-Pacific
Category Migratory Resident Total
"Safe"
190
102
292
Threatened
53
59
112
Total
243
161
404

Source: Birds to Watch 2 by Collar et al. (1994)

It is vital to understand the underlying causes for declines in populations and to attempt to control these trends in order to prevent key components of the biodiversity of wetland habitats from being lost.

The number of waterbirds using a particular wetland is related to types and quality of habitats, abundance and availability of food, and level of disturbance. Waterbird populations can be monitored by regular counting at key sites, an activity often facilitated by the open nature of most wetland habitats and relatively large size of the birds. Monitoring of waterbirds can provide valuable information on the status of wetlands, and can be a key tool for increasing the awareness of wetlands and conservation values.

Around the globe, waterbirds have been demonstrated to serve as a powerful and efficient vehicle to focus attention and mobilize action for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their biota at local, national and international levels.

Fundamental to long-term conservation of species is conservation of their habitats. A compilation and review of the status of wetlands in Asia undertaken during the late 1980s (Scott 1989, Scott and Poole 1989) revealed that 85% of important wetlands were under some form of threat, the main forms being: general disturbance from human activities including settlement and agricultural encroachment; drainage and reclamation for agriculture; domestic, industrial waste water and pesticide pollution; over-exploitation of fishery resources and associated disturbance; commercial logging and other forestry activities in wetland-associated forests; and degradation of watersheds resulting in increased soil erosion and siltation and decreased water quality. Fifty percent of these wetlands were reported to be under moderate or severe threat, providing an indication of the severity of human impacts on the habitats. In order to address issues related to the conservation of waterbirds, therefore, it is vital to address problems concerned with conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and other habitats used by the birds during their annual migratory cycles.

In addition to government agencies involved in nature management and conservation, several international and national non-governmental organizations are actively involved in programmes of wetland and waterbird research and conservation in the Asia-Pacific region. It is important that all conservation organizations work together with governments in order to make optimum use of limited resources and achieve the goal of sustainable use of wetland habitats and conservation of these ecosystems in the shortest-possible time frame.