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Wetlands Loss Endangers Birds on African-Eurasian Flyway
THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, June 17, 2010 (ENS) - One-third of the critical wetlands that migratory waterbirds need when traveling between Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia are entirely unprotected, according to the first survey using a new online information tool. As a result, 42 percent of these waterbird species are in decline, bird experts warn.

The online tool was unveiled Monday at an International Waterbird Conservation Symposium taking place in The Hague to mark the 15th anniversary of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement, AEWA. The international wildlife treaty aims to conserve migratory waterbirds which use the African-Eurasian Flyway.

"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," said AWEA Executive Secretary Bert Lenten.

The CSN Tool shows that just two of the five most important sites for the Near Threatened Lesser Flamingo in Tanzania are protected. (Photo by Cris Pierry)

The CSN tool provides comprehensive information on 294 waterbird species from 3,020 sites. Click here to use the new tool.

"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," Lenten said. "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."

More than 200 experts from 100 countries in the African-Eurasian region collaborated to develop the CSN Tool.

Wetlands International, BirdLife International and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre organized the collaboration within the framework of the Wings Over Wetlands Project, the largest international waterbird and wetland conservation initiative ever undertaken in the African-Eurasian region.

The tool was partly funded by the Global Environment Facility, an international environment financing organization, and by the German government.

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

A Sandwich tern approaches its offspring with fish in a wetland near Binz, Ruegen, Germany. This species is covered by the AWEA treaty. (Photo by H. Osadnik)

"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," said Lambertini.

Migratory waterbirds, such as waders, terns and geese, need an unbroken chain of wetlands to complete their annual life cycles, but they are threatened by expanding aquaculture, agriculture and energy developments.

The bird experts say the new tool shows how policies within the agricultural, water management and energy sectors influence biodiversity issues.

"There is tremendous potential for the CSN Tool to benefit decision-making in these areas as well," said Ward Hagemeijer, Head of Biodiversity at Wetlands International.

"This tool mobilizes information about these critical sites and the species that depend on them, for use in impact assessments, spatial planning and other development processes that currently have no access to these data," Hagemeijer said. "This can make a real difference in the way development will be managed - avoiding, minimizing and mitigating impacts and contributing to sustainability."

Siberian crane (Photo by ehyh)

"The CSN Tool is a powerful new resource which will help strengthen both the implementation of AEWA and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands," said Dr Nick Davidson, deputy secretary general of the Ramsar Convention. "It will provide enhanced support to governments and others in recognizing and managing key wetlands for waterbirds."

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 in Bonn on Monday.

With only 3,000 to 3,500 left in the wild, the Siberian crane, Grus leucogeranus, is listed as Critically Endangered.

During their annual migration, Siberian cranes travel 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) from their breeding grounds in western Siberia and Yakutia to wintering sites in southern China and Iran.

Along these flyways, they overcome obstacles such as high mountains and vast deserts. Major threats such as hunting in western and central Asia and the drainage of critical wetlands in east Asia increase their risk.

This year, the GEF-funded $10.3 million Siberian Crane Wetland 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 these wetland ecosystems.

Millions of people in the Eurasian region will also benefit from the supply of clean water purified by its passage through these wetlands.

An expansion of the critical site network established for the Siberian Crane Wetland Project now will be applied to hot spots in 11 countries that are signatories to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, CMS.

CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said, "During the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, CMS continues to protect this majestic bird and its wetland habitats that are critical to humans and species alike. Not only do these ecosystems supply drinking water, but they act as a flood defense and as carbon sink to mitigate climate change."

The same wetlands benefit local residents by providing clean water and opportunities for fishing, agriculture, recreation and tourism.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.



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