East Asian Flyway coastal wetlands face an ecological crisis

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Courtesy of Wetlands International

Information provided for the Convention on Biological Diversity COP11, October 2012, Hyderabad, India

Intertidal habitats along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway face an ecological crisis – this is the conclusion of an independent situation analysis commissioned by IUCN1.

The report shows that fisheries and vital ecological services are collapsing and ecological disasters increasing, with resulting impacts on human livelihoods. Migratory waterbird species along the flyway, which serve as indicators of the health of the coastal ecosystem, are showing exceptionally rapid declines. These declines are linked mainly to the disappearance and degradation of coastal migratory staging posts, rather than problems on the breeding or wintering grounds.

The report identified 16 key areas for waterbirds along the flyway, with six of these in the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai Sea). Here, the most pressing threat is the fast pace of coastal land claim (also known as reclamation and defined as conversion of natural wetland into dry land and artificial wetland by mechanical means). Since the early 1980s, the mean area of intertidal habitat claimed within the six key areas in the Yellow Sea is 35 %. Losses of such magnitude are the likely key drivers of declines in biodiversity and ecosystem services in the intertidal zone of the region.

Waterbirds of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway coast are facing extinction

Waterbirds that depend on the Asian intertidal habitats of the East Asian- Australasian Flyway (EAAF) during their non-breeding season are the world’s most threatened migratory birds, apart from albatrosses and petrels.

At least 24 such species are heading towards extinction, with many others facing exceptionally rapid losses of 5–9 % per year. With declines of 26 % per year the Spoon-billed Sandpiper could be extinct within a decade. These rates of species population decline are among the highest of any ecological system on the planet.

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