Workshop for Asian Waterbird Census Coordinators, October 2003

10/10/2003

Statement to the Asian Waterbird Census Coordinators Meeting

9-10 October, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

from the Bureau of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

It is with great regret that the Bureau of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is unable to participate in the AWC Coordinators Meeting owing to other commitments. This first gathering of the Coordinators of the Asian component of Wetlands International's International Waterbird Census (IWC), made possible with the generous financial support of the Japan Funding for Global Environment (JFGE), is an important landmark in the review and future development of this very important global programme of waterbird monitoring. It provides the opportunity for Coordinators to share their experiences and examine how their many efforts to count regularly key wetlands for waterbirds in the region can and does contribute to the regional and global efforts to improve the conservation status of waterbirds.

As you may know, the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) is the oldest of the global environmental conventions. It has always given particular attention to waterbirds, since its inception stemmed from widespread concern over the destruction of wetlands and the impact of this on waterbirds and other components of biological diversity. It remains of major concern to the Convention that such loss and deterioration of both coastal and inland wetlands continues to be widespread, and nowhere are these pressures greater that in Asia owing to the needs and demands of the region's large and growing human population. Wetlands International acts as a formal International Organisation Partner (IOP) of the Convention, and the waterbird information compiled through the International Waterbird Census is important to the Convention. The Ramsar Bureau (the Convention's secretariat) contributes to supporting and guiding this work in Asia including through membership of the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Committee.

The Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention have in particular recognised the importance of the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy for waterbirds in the region, most recently through Resolution VIII.37 International cooperation on conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats in the Asia-Pacific region adopted at Ramsar's COP8 in Valencia, Spain in November 2003. For your information, I attach a copy of this Resolution to this message.

The International Waterbird Census is unique. With the increasing link-up with waterbird monitoring schemes in North America, it is becoming truly global in its scope, and it is probably the only global monitoring scheme of its kind. It not only identifies key wetlands for waterbirds but also permits assessment of the status and trends of waterbirds at the biogeographical population scale. Such assessments, and the monitoring schemes from which they are derived, are increasingly being recognised as crucial to governments in determining whether the biodiversity target established by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development: "to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biological diversity by 2010" is being met.

Yet it remains very challenging to maintain and continue such monitoring schemes over the long period of years necessary to yield meaningful baselines and identification of changes in the status of biodiversity. The value and success of the Asian Waterbird Census is largely due to the dedication and immense efforts of its national Co-ordinators and their networks of people on the ground prepared to make the effort to count waterbirds regularly in often difficult and inaccessible places, with the support of Wetlands International. Such dedication needs to be as widely and fully recognised as possible.

The information you all collect and compile in the various components of the IWC provides essential support for those working hard to implement the Ramsar Convention, and it is also important to ensure, as Wetlands International strives to do, that the information gathered through the AWC and other parts of the IWC are made fully available in useful forms to those who can and should be using it.

Your counts can help to identify those wetlands which qualify for designation as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites), particularly in the application of Ramsar Criteria 5 (sites which regularly support >20,000 waterbirds) and 6 (sites which regularly support 1% or more of a biogeographic population of waterbirds). The Strategic Framework for the development of the List of Wetlands of International Importance, adopted by the Convention in 1999 has as its target the establishment of 'coherent and comprehensive' national and international networks of Ramsar sites. Yet to date, of the 1313 Ramsar sites globally covering 111 million hectares only 118 sites have so far been designated in Asia/Australasia for waterbirds under Criteria 5 and/or 6. Furthermore, 88 (75%) of these sites have been designated by just four countries - Australia (39 sites), the Islamic Republic of Iran (22), China (15) and Pakistan (12). Sites for waterbird have been designated in only 16 countries in the region, meaning that 8 Contracting Parties have yet to designate any Ramsar sites for waterbirds. Clearly there remains a long way to go achieve the anticipated comprehensive network for waterbirds in the region, and many key waterbird sites yet to be designated are known to be under severe pressure.

In addition, the data you gather through the AWC make a vital contribution to the understanding of waterbird status at the biogeographic population scale, notably through the assessment of population sizes and trends for WI's regularly published Waterbird Population Estimates, which provides the basis endorsed by the Ramsar Convention for 1% population thresholds in the application of Ramsar site designation Criterion 6, most recently thorugh COP8 Resolution VIII.38.

Furthermore, the information compiled in Waterbird Population Estimates provides a probably unique resource as the basis for innovative analyses of waterbird population status and trends at the flyway scale. Such analyses need to be increasingly undertaken for all waterbird taxa, so as to highlight which flyways are under most pressure, and which waterbird populations should be afforded priority for conservation attention.

In this context, we would like to draw to the attention of all of you that the International Wader Study Group (WSG) last week held a workshop in Cadiz, Spain which reviewed the status and trends of wader (shorebird) populations on all flyways globally, analyses which drew substantially from the information in Waterbird Population Estimates 3rd Edition. The overall conclusion reached by the workshop is extremely alarming:

"The majority of populations of waders of known population trend are in decline all around the world - a matter of international conservation concern. Of populations with known trends, 48% are declining, in contrast to just 16% which are increasing: thus three times as many populations are in decline as are increasing."

We attach the full text of the conclusions of the WSG workshop, released today, to this message, and strongly urge you to consider and fully take into account its conclusions and recommendations in your planning and establishment of strategic priorities for the future of the AWC.

In particular we draw to your attention several of these conclusions and recommendations notably those concerning monitoring and research, the vital importance of, and pressures on, staging sites for long-distance migratory waterbirds, and on the lack of knowledge of non-migratory waders.

Furthermore, the conclusions point out that the Central and Southern Asian flyway is extremely poorly known and the population estimates for this flyway are very out of date. Although this WSG conclusion refers specifically to waders it can be anticipated that information on other waterbird taxa in this region is also poor. The WSG workshop recognised that there is an urgent need to both assess recent data for this flyway as well as to improve the processes of basic data gathering. In this respect, we particularly welcome the development of WI's Central Asian Flyway initative, which you will be discussing during your workshop. Such up-to-date assessment could be achieved, at least for some populations, through a full analysis of counts compiled through the AWC, with the assistance of waterbird experts in the WI Specialist Groups network, and we urge you during your workshop to consider how best to undertake this process.

Partnerships between all interested parties at local, national and international scales are essential to achieve the conservation of waterbirds, and international cooperation is essential for migratory waterbirds, as has been recognised by Parties to the Ramsar Convention. The Ramsar Convention and Wetlands International cannot and do not work in isolation on these important issues. In particular we are pleased to tell you that the Ramsar Bureau is currently concluding a joint work plan with the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), which includes many actions designed to enhance collaboration and improve sharing of information. Your work under the AWC can make a major contribution to these efforts. We also urge you to make contact with those responsible for the implementation of the Ramsar Convention in each Asian country (the Ramsar Administrative Authority) and to ensure that the waterbird information which you gather is made fully available to them to assist in their work.

Finally, on behalf of the Ramsar Bureau, we wish you all success with your workshop, and the Bureau looks forward to hearing of its outcomes (in line with the request in Resolution VIII.37). We congratulate Wetlands International and the participants for creating this important opportunity to plan taking forwards a thriving Asian Waterbird Census for the future.

Dr Nick Davidson
Deputy Secretary General

and

Dr Guangchun Lei
Regional Advisor for Asia

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