Wildlife & Biodiversity

Commitment made to protect threatened seabirds and waterbirds

Conservation of waterbirds is important as they offer a source of livelihood to people

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 17 November 2015

Seabirds are among the most threatened group of birds in the world

A set of resolutions, which also included action plans for highly-threatened seabirds and guidelines for sustainability of waterbirds, were adopted at the Sixth Meeting of Parties (MOP6) to the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

Migratory waterbirds such as storks, ducks, geese and the African penguin are vulnerable to threats, especially when they go on long migration routes across the continents of Africa and Eurasia.

Jacques Trouvilliez, the executive secretary of AEWA said, “AEWA forms a bridge between Eurasia and Africa, which is indispensable for the conservation of trans-continental migrants. The objectives of the EU Birds Directive adopted in 1979 cannot fully be achieved if actions are limited to just the political dimension. AEWA allows concerted actions to be launched throughout the flyway which extends from Russia to South Africa; however, the pressures on the birds vary from north to south.”

“Our actions are based not only on the best scientific expertise, but also on reconciling human well-being with biodiversity conservation because without the support of local communities we cannot succeed,” he added.

When it comes to Africa, waterbird conservation is directly linked to livelihod. Abdoulaye N'Diaye, coordinator of technical support unit to the African initiative of AEWA and winner of the 2015 AEWA Conservation Award said as much.

“Waterbird conservation in Africa is linked to improving the livelihoods of people. We cannot just assume that the same level of capacity for wetland management and monitoring of our shared waterbirds exists across the flyway,” N'Diaye said.

More than 200 representatives and key experts from party states, observer states, inter-governmental ggroups and non-governmental organisations attended the conference to guide future conservation efforts for migratory waterbirds across the African-Eurasian Flyway.

Seabirds prone to risk
Seabirds are among the most threatened group of birds in the world. For the first time in AEWA's history, an action plan for nine species of seabirds was adopted, involving Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

“Seabirds are sentinels of ocean health and some are signaling distress. Concerted, coordinated and collaborative efforts are required to save our seabirds and thereby secure our oceans,” Ross Wanless, Africa coordinator of the Global Seabird Programme of BirdLife South Africa, said.

The conservation status of seabirds is deteriorating faster than any other kind of birds. Fisheries is posing a major risk through bycatch and depletion of prey. Seabirds are also being threatened by invasive species on islands, ingestion of microplastics, off-shore wind farms, oil spills, disturbance at breeding sites, harvesting and climate change.

To address these challenges, countries have agreed to establish and complement a network of marine-protected areas. They have also pledged to support the decisions of the United Nations Environment Assembly on marine debris and the Food and Agriculture Organization to comply with regulations to protect seabirds.

Adopting action plans for conservation
The conference adopted action plans for six priority species, three of which occur only in Africa. These include Uganda's national bird, the endangered Grey Crowned Crane.The species has suffered a decline of 80 per cent over the past 45 years.

The Shoebill, which owes its name to its huge beak, is threatened by illegal wildlife trade, loss of habitat from agricultural activities and disturbance by livestock and people. An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 birds remain in the wild at present.

Classified as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, the Northern Bald Ibis is in danger of becoming extinct. It has suffered a serious decline since the 1950s due to habitat loss, pesticide poisoning and hunting, and more recently electrocution on powerlines. Only 500 birds remain in the wild today.

Globally, the Long-tailed Duck population has decreased by almost 60 per cent in the last decade due to habitat degradation, oil pollution, drowning through entanglement in fishing nets and hunting.

Loss and fragmentation of moorland habitats as a result of afforestation, high egg and chick mortalities and intense agriculture are the key threats to the Eurasian Curlew. They have caused a global decline in this species estimated at 20-30 per cent in the past 15 years. The AEWA action plan aims to reverse population decline by reducing the mortality rate of adult birds and increasing breeding success.

The AEWA MOP6 also discussed the impact of renewable energy on migratory species, including waterbirds. Renewable energy technologies help to fight climate change, but if not properly installed, they can also harm animals and migratory waterbirds. If located along major migration routes, windfarms and hydropower plants can have lethal effects.


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