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Shorebird staging-sites in short supply…

Shrinking wetlands spell danger

Migratory shorebirds, and the wetland habitats they require to complete their annual journeys, are under threat. These are the stark results of a Biological Conservation paper which reports migratory populations wintering in south-eastern Australia have plummeted by 79% over a 24 year period.

“Our grandchildren will not be able to share in the excitement of marvelling at the migratory feats of shorebirds if the current decline continues”, said Dr Graeme Hamilton (CEO Birds Australia, BirdLife in Australia).

The key cause is thought to be loss of suitable feeding habitat at staging sites, where birds refuel along their epic flights.

"The wetlands and resting places that they rely on for food are shrinking virtually all the way along their migration path, from Australia through Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and up through Asia into China and Russia", stated Professor Richard Kingsford (Biological Conservation paper co-author).The news comes as nearly two million migratory shorebirds are gathering on the other side of Australia in what has been described as one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles. The birds are preparing to make an annual flight along the ‘East Asian-Australasian Flyway’ – a route which passes through 22 countries.

Many birds have already set off - one of which is a Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica carrying a small transmitter. The GPS tag allows researchers to follow its route from Broom in north-western Australia as it travels to breeding grounds in Alaska. The bird 'H8' was last sighted on 11 April entering the Yellow Sea in China, having already travelled around 5,000 km.

The Yellow Sea provides rich feeding habitat for more than three million migratory birds annually, and is a key refuelling stop. A total of 36 species pause their journey here to rebuild their energy reserves.

The Yellow Sea is also home to 600 million people in China and South Korea - about 10% of the world’s population. The demands of this growing human population are progressively destroying the tidal feeding grounds, crucial for migratory shorebirds.The most important shorebird site within the Yellow Sea – Saemangeum – is currently being reclaimed for development, putting millions of migratory birds under threat. The 40,100 ha construction project on the west coast of South Korea involves damming the estuaries of the Mangyeung and Dongjin Rivers with a vast 33-km long seawall.

“Our international agreements relating to shorebird conservation (Ramsar Convention), the Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA), the China-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention) do not seem to be working”, warned Dr Hamilton.

NBThe Bar-tailed Godwit tracking study is being undertaken as part of the Pacific Shorebird Migration Project; involving biologists from PRBO Conservation Science, the US Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Centre, Massey University and The University of Auckland (both New Zealand). The work was funded by the USGS, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

4th July 2014