Migratory Birds and Animals Championed in Bonn

BONN, Germany, September 18, 2002 (ENS) - Climate change is a "huge threat to migratory species," and we must do everything possible to limit this change, German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin told delegates from 80 countries and environmental groups at today's opening of a global conference on the conservation of migratory species.

The 7th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) will run for a week at the International Conference Centre Parliament Buildings in Bonn. Proposals covering some 36 migratory species will be discussed.


German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin (Photo courtesy IISD-ENB)
Trittin, a Green Party minister, said the German government has committed 500 million euros for climate change reduction programs, such as increasing the market share of solar and wind power, in part with the aim of improving conditions for migratory birds.

More migratory species are to be included under the CMS treaty during this meeting, said Trittin. Australia has proposed the listing of six large whale species for protection as migratory animals.

He warned that migratory ocean species such as whales, seals and turtles, need greater protection from oil spills at sea, and called for greater cooperation among governments to help these animals survive. There is a "fundamental need to globally coordinate nature conservation," Trittin urged.

Bonn formally became the headquarters of the CMS Secretariat this morning with signatures and smiles all around. The Convention came into being in 1979 as a result of the efforts of the government of Germany, the United Nations Environment Programme, and IUCN, the World Conservation Union.

On behalf of the Prince of Wales, Arnulf Müller-Helmbrecht, CMS executive secretary, praised the CMS as a “splendid champion” of vulnerable species for over 20 years. "A great deal has been achieved in the past 20 years by CMS," the prince said, citing the trilateral cooperation over seals in the Wadden Sea, and agreements to conserve small cetaceans in the Baltic and North Seas which are acting as models for agreements in other parts of the world.

The Prince of Wales urged nations to ratify a key treaty designed to save albatrosses and petrels. Many of the world's 24 species of albatross are vanishing as hundreds of thousands of birds each year become entangled and killed on fishing hooks of longline fishing vessels.

"These sea wanderers have developed their astounding powers of navigation over millions of years, but are now threatened by man - in particular, by use and abandonment of non-selective fishing gear and by incidental mortality as a result of commercial fishing activities," the Prince said in his statement.

Eight countries have so far signed the Agreement on Albatrosses and Petrels, but only two, Australia and New Zealand, have ratified it. Five nations must ratify the treaty to bring it into force, and officials hope this can be accomplished in early 2003.

Longline fishing vessels, which are setting millions of hooks globally each year, could be killing more than 300,000 seabirds annually, one-third of them albatrosses, experts estimate. The number of petrels, a kind of small albatross, being killed by longliners is unknown but is believed to be substantial too.


Albatross, Gulf of Alaska (Photo courtesy NOAA)
BirdLife International, an international coalition of national conservation groups based in Cambridge, UK, has launched a Save the Albatross campaign, with the support of the Prince of Wales.

BirdLife estimates that in 1994 one third of all albatross species were threatened with extinction. By 2000, this had risen to two thirds. One species, the Amsterdam Island Albatross, is down to just 90 individuals.

In Bonn, BirdLife representative John O'Sullivan explained that the fishing lines, carrying thousands of baited hooks, can be up to 130 kilometers (80 miles) long. "After being fired from the ship, they float on the surface. Sea birds, scavenging behind the boats, can take the bait from the hooks and be dragged underwater as the lines sink," he said.

Low cost solutions exist to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the risks of these sea birds grabbing bait and drowning on the lines which the agreement would promote. Solutions include using defrosted bait, which means the lines sink faster, to firing the lines at night when most of the birds are resting rather than feeding.

Inexpensive modifications can be made to vessels so that the lines are fired directly underwater though special tubes.

"It is vital that those countries with long line fishing fleets take this Agreement seriously," said Müller-Helmbrecht.


White terns in flight, Laysan albatross chicks on the ground. Laysan Island, Hawaiian Archipelago, 1969. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Barry Baker, Australia's scientific counselor to the CMS, said having five nations ratify the albatross and petrel agreement is just the start.

He said there are 15 countries that can be classed as range states, nations were albatrosses and petrels can be found. There are many more countries with fleets operating in waters where the sea birds can be found.

Baker said the agreement would not just tackle the impact of insensitive longlining techniques. By forging regional cooperation, signatories would deal with other threats to the birds and their habitats including pollution and plastics, dumped by ships and industry, which albatrosses and petrels can ingest and choke upon.

Dr. Claude Martin, WWF director general, addressed the CMS delegates on behalf of the "wider community of civil society," nongovernmental organizations such as IUCN- World Conservation Union, Wetlands International, and BirdLife International and the many other NGOs with which the CMS has relationships.

Martin said the CMS provides "a sound basis for transboundary cooperation" not least with NGOs which since the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro have "invested hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars, far more money than the GEF had available in biodiversity conservation," Martin said.


Dr. Claude Martin, WWF director general (Photo courtesy IISD-ENB)
Cooperation with NGOs through the instruments of regional agreements stand at the forefront of migratory species conservation, he said,

The Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), whose participants are meeting in Bonn right after the CMS conference concludes, in particular "offers a real chance in this period after Johannesburg," Martin said.

South Africa is expected will include several additional bird species under AEWA, and its signatories will consider the possiblity of extending this agreement to Central Asia.

The CMS Secretariat says an "alarming" 24 percent of all mammals and 12 percent of bird species are considered globally threatened. Many of these are migratory species, which are vulnerable to indiscriminate fishing, unsustainable hunting, habitat degradation and pollution.

The Pacific Leatherback turtle, once thought to number as many as 90,000 nesting females, has declined by some 95 percent in 20 years.

Six species of Sahelo-Saharan Antelopes have disappeared almost entirely from North Africa, the Secretariat says, The Siberian cranes that winter in Iran and India are now fewer than a dozen individuals.