Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy: 2001-2005

Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Committee
Wetlands International - Asia Pacific, 2001
ISBN 983 9663 30 5

1. Introduction to waterbirds, wetlands and conservation initiatives

1.1 Waterbirds

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 form important links in the food web and nutrient cycles. Many wetland 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 attracts people to wetlands.

Waterbirds are broadly defined as: "birds ecologically dependent on wetlands". It includes traditionally recognised
groups popularly known as wildfowl, waterfowl and shorebirds/waders (see Table 1, page 7 for full list of migratory waterbird groups). In addition to these groups, there are other birds also dependent on wetlands such as kingfishers, birds of prey and passerines. These birds benefit from efforts undertaken to conserve waterbirds.

Migratory populations include species in which the entire population or a significant proportion of the population (>1%)
cyclically and predictably crosses one or more national jurisdictional boundaries. Based on the text of the Convention
on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Article 1).

Many waterbirds are migratory, undertaking annual migrations along different flyways spanning the length and breadth of the globe between their breeding and non-breeding grounds. During their annual migration, waterbirds stop for very short periods of time to rest and feed at staging sites - "stepping stones" that are essential for migration and crucial to their survival. They regularly cross national boundaries and thus conservation of migratory waterbirds is clearly a collective responsibility of all countries in the flyway.

A Flyway is broadly defined as: the migration route of a population, species, or group of species of bird, between a breeding area, through the staging sites (passage) and non-breeding area (wintering area).

During their annual migrations, the birds depend on a great diversity of habitats, ranging from the Arctic tundra to forests, rivers and estuaries, lakes and marshes, farm lands, rice fields, deserts, coastal marshes, sandy beaches, intertidal mudflats, coral reefs and atolls, and mangroves, most of which are wetlands.

Loss of waterbird habitats through direct and indirect modifications and non-sustainable harvesting of waterbirds for human needs have led to declines in several waterbird populations and a 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 Asia-Pacific region has expanded rapidly to include species from a large range of waterbird groups. Whilst the decline of some populations has been well documented, the fate of many others remains unknown. 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 habitat is related to types and quality of habitats, abundance and availability of food, and level of disturbance. Monitoring of waterbirds can provide valuable information on the status of wetlands, and can be a key tool for increasing the awareness of importance of wetlands and conservation values.

1.2 Global conservation initiatives

Around the world, waterbirds have been demonstrated to serve as a powerful and efficient vehicle to focus attention and mobilise action for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their biota. On the basis of the annual movement patterns of migratory waterbird populations, the world can be divided into three major flyway regions, with some overlapping areas:

  • North and South American flyways
  • African-Eurasian flyways
  • Asia-Pacific flyways

Promoting conservation of wetlands and waterbirds around the world is being undertaken by government agencies involved in nature management and conservation, international and national non-governmental organisations, development agencies and other groups. Experience has shown that implementation of conservation efforts in a co-ordinated manner, results in the optimum use of limited resources and leads to a more sustainable use of wetland habitats and conservation outcomes.

Wetlands are defined as: "areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres". Wetlands "may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands". Based on the text of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) (Articles 1.1 and 2.1).

In response to the need for "flyway" based actions the following broad cooperative initiatives have been developed:

  • North and South American flyways. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan promotes conservation of North American Anatidae (ducks, geese and swans). The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network is promoting the conservation of migratory shorebirds throughout the entire Americas, complemented by a US Shorebird Conservation Plan (Brown et al. 2000).
  • African-Eurasian flyways. An Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS or Bonn Convention) entered in force in November 1999 and now has nearly 30 contracting Parties.
  • Asia-Pacific flyways. International action has been developed and coordinated under the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy: 1996-2000.

1.3 Asia-Pacific conservation initiatives

An excellent example of co-operation at an international level is the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy: 1996-2000, launched in 1996 through the support of the governments of Australia and Japan and coordinated by Wetlands International (see Mundkur et al. 1999 for an overview). The Strategy served as an international framework for the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats in the region. Wetlands International established the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Committee (MWCC) to oversee the implementation of the Strategy (see page 22 for details).

The Strategy: 1996-2000 was based on the following principles:

  • Migratory waterbirds have evolved to cover great distances to complete their annual life cycle. During this cycle, birds need to stop, rest and feed in wetlands and other habitats in a number of countries, often only for a day or more.
  • Efforts to conserve migratory waterbirds and their habitats in one country can be adversely affected by actions in another country. Thus, raising public awareness, information exchange and international cooperation is needed to achieve conservation of migratory species throughout their range.
  • Conservation of habitats for migratory waterbirds is closely linked to maintenance and sustainable use of these habitats, including natural and man-made wetlands. n Action plans can serve to effectively promote conservation of species-groups and globally threatened species if implemented by governments, conventions, non-government organisations and local people.
  • Establishment of international networks of important sites can significantly contribute to the conservation of waterbirds and their habitats across a flyway.
  • Public participation in developing and implementing conservation and sustainable use policies and programmes should be provided for and encouraged.

A major achievement of the Strategy: 1996-2000 has been to significantly raise the profile and awareness of the need to conserve migratory waterbirds and their habitats in the Asia-Pacific flyways through a series of initiatives implemented at local, national and international levels. These initiatives have been undertaken with the active support and involvement of governments, conventions, national and international non-government organisations (NGO)'s, development agencies, the corporate sector and local communities.

Highlights of the Strategy during 1996-2000 include:

  • Increased awareness of the importance of conserving waterbirds and their habitats in the Asia-Pacific.
  • Development and implementation of regional conservation action plans for three groups of migratory waterbirds (shorebirds, cranes and Anatidae), see page 11 for details.
  • Establishment of three networks of internationally important sites: East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Site Network (in 1996), North East Asian Crane Site Network (in 1997) and East Asian Anatidae Site Network (in 1999). The networks, as at December 2000, comprised 67 sites in 11 countries (over 60% are sites also listed under the Convention on Wetlands); new sites are being added each year.
  • Implementation of numerous actions at network sites and other important sites in the region, including:
    • Securing government and other funding support for conservation, public awareness, education and research activities at the national and international level.
    • Surveys of important wetlands resulting in the identification of new sites of national and international importance.
    • Organisation of training courses, resulting in strengthened local capacity to manage wetland and conserve waterbirds.
    • Collection of up-to-date information on waterbirds, threats and conservation priorities.
  • Organisation of international and national meetings, workshops and conferences to share and exchange information and skills and promote the importance of conservation measures.
  • Publication of technical and non-technical information in English and several Asian languages.
  • Development of four web sites dedicated to inform the public about activities and issues related to waterbird conservation.

Implementation of the Strategy for migratory waterbirds has also had benefits for resident birds and other wetland species through raised awareness of conservation issues and improved management of important waterbird sites. Thus migratory waterbirds have proved to be an important flagship group that can serve to unite people across the region to promote the conservation of a common resource.

An independent review of the implementation of the Strategy undertaken in 1999, reaffirmed the positive value of this international cooperative initiative in promoting waterbird awareness and conservation in the Asia-Pacific region. The review identified a number of issues including the need to broaden the basis of funding activities related to the Strategy, increasing the involvement of government agencies and other organisations with the Strategy; and related to both these, developing closer co-operative linkages with organisations involved in related areas of wetland and bird conservation so as to develop synergies.

Based on the successes of the Strategy: 1996-2000, the MWCC has recommended the development and implementation of this second Strategy for 2001-2005 to provide an international framework for the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats in the Asia-Pacific region into the 21st century.