Message from the Ramsar Convention Secretariat on the occasion of World Migratory Bird Day, 8-9 May 2010

07/05/2010

Never has it been more urgent to raise awareness worldwide of the phenomenon of bird migrations: today we can still enjoy this experience of the natural world – but for how much longer?


This year’s World Migratory Bird Day focus on globally threatened migratory birds recognizes the stark messages about persistent and alarming decline in many of these species and populations, including from the work of the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (BIP). For many migratory species, whether globally threatened or not, we are certainly not moving towards achieving the commitment made by the world’s governments to by 2010 to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biological diversity.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has, since its inception and signing in 1971 as the first of the modern global environmental agreements, paid particular attention to migratory waterbirds, and both in the Convention text itself and numerous subsequent decisions by its member governments, and expects its Contracting Parties to work together at the flyway scale to maintain waterbird populations. The close collaborations between Ramsar and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), and with the more recent African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), reflects the recognition that a country working to wisely use and maintain the ecological character of its wetlands, so that they remain a network of safe havens for migratory waterbirds, is directly delivering harmonized implementation of these intergovernmental instruments. Indeed, Ramsar’s mechanism of designating Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites) delivers a key mechanism for this delivery to all three instruments, and of the current 1888 Ramsar sites (covering over 185 million hectares of wetlands worldwide) 833 (44% of all sites, covering almost 118 million hectares of wetland)have been specifically designated as key sites for migratory waterbirds. The ongoing Wings over Wetlands (WOW) project is also designed to directly provide flyway, regional and in-country support and capacity for delivering both AEWA and the Ramsar Convention. 

Yet despite all this effort, migratory waterbirds are in serious - and increasingly serious - trouble, with Wetlands International reporting in their most recent edition of Waterbird Population Estimates that of waterbird populations with a trend estimate, 40% were decreasing and only 17% increasing – and recent new information suggests that even this may be a underestimate of the problem. For example assessment of trends in global shorebird populations has found that their status was already poor in the 1980s, and since then has been in persistent and accelerating decline, with rate of decline about four times faster since the 1990s than earlier, and with populations dependent on the Central Asian and East Asian-Australasia flyways almost all in decline. However, this assessment has also found that there is some good news: that globally threatened shorebirds have been improving in status, particular as a consequence of conservation actions on the ground for island endemic (non-migratory) species. 

In contrast, it is the species and populations that are not currently on the Red List of Globally Threatened Species that are in most serious decline, and much more attention to reversing their trends is urgently needed – before they end up becoming Red Listed as an admission of our failure to safeguard formerly healthy populations. We know what is driving these declines – chiefly the continuing and widely reported destruction of wetland habitats, both inland and coastal, probably in some regions exacerbated by hunting - and so what needs to be done to halt or reverse the trend. 

World Migratory Bird Day provides the opportunity to both celebrate the beauty of these animals and their spectacular migrations, to highlight their plight and to act to better safeguard them in the future. On behalf of the Ramsar Secretariat I congratulate CMS and AEWA on their initiative and encourage all of the Ramsar Convention family to participate in the celebrations this weekend. 

Prof Nick Davidson

Deputy Secretary General

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