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Recognizing Development Challenges: Creating A Protected Area Network For Migratory Water Birds Along The East Asian - Australasian Flyway


The East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership brings together 33 national government agencies, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations to conserve migratory waterbirds and their habitats for biodiversity and people throughout the 22 countries of the Flyway. A major objective of EAAFP is to identify a critical network of sites (the Flyway Site Network) that, if conserved and effectively managed, can support the continued migration of all waterbird species and groups into the future. Network sites include protected and non-protected areas and will require different approaches to assure their continued ability to support migratory waterbirds and their habitats.

Problem, challenge or context: 

Over 50 million migratory waterbirds using the East Asian – Australasian Flyway are at risk because of the rapid loss of critical habitats at key sites throughout the Flyway. Some shorebird species are showing annual declines of 6-9% related to the loss of intertidal mudflats at remaining staging areas, particularly the Yellow Sea. If these declines continue, this migration that has existed for millennia, will be lost within a single generation. The existing formal protected area system in the countries of the Flyway is inadequate to protect species at key points of the migratory cycle, particularly in East Asia. Given an increasing reluctance in some countries to designate additional formal protected areas that are perceived to limit potential future development, a more flexible and adapted arrangement to manage critical sites is required.

Specific elements of components: 
Entifying the critical sites

Different groups of waterbirds (shorebirds, cranes, wildfowl) have different habitat requirements and different migration patterns, so a variety of sites will be required, normally supporting at least 1% of the Flyway population of at least one species. A recent prioritization exercise identified the critical sites in the Flyway. 


Building partnerships for site management

Many sites are facing huge pressures from rapid economic development. Traditional protected area authorities need to forge alliances with economic and development operators, local governments and other key stakeholders to find adapted solutions. Involving local NGOs and communities and finding site champions are important to bringing the issues of habitat conservation to local decision-makers. International partnerships are beginning to play a role.


Raising the profile of the issue

Wetland habitats, and particularly inter-tidal mudflats are often perceived as having little natural value. Reclaiming mudflats are a cheap and cost-effective option for industrial development, since ownership and “land” price issues are rarely a concern. Raising the profile, locally, nationally and internationally of their importance in supporting a truly shared global heritage needs to be emphasized. Compelling stories of migratory waterbird journeys and connectedness can be told, and sites connected by a shared migration, involving in some cases individual birds. Awareness raising is required at all levels and should be targeted.

Key lessons learned: 
  1. Benefits of joining the Flyway Site Network need to be made clear. Ideally some commitment of effort and resources can help. It may be difficult to get acknowledgement of sites that are not currently in the formal PA system
  2. Partnerships at site level and internationally need to be constantly nurtured.
  3. Relying on the economic benefits of ecosystem goods and services may not be productive, since the benefits of site development may accrue to local elites. It may be more effective to appeal to international reputations and obligations
Impacts and outcomes: 
Expansion of the Flyway Site Network (FSN)

So far only 120 of potentially 950 sites identified as of international importance have been included in the FSN. A smaller subset of “can’t lose” sites is the focus of current efforts.


International Partnerships are working at key sites

An example is a joint project at the most important inter-tidal site in Korea, where Rio Tinto and Birdlife are working together on a conservation project to protect migratory shorebirds, as part of Rio Tinto’s biodiversity offset policy. UN World Tourism Authority is developing a nature-based tourism project to provide increased incomes in the same area. Sister site relationships between sites linked by migratory species have been developed among countries, with exchange and education programs. Ramsar and EAAFP are carrying out joint national and international site manager training workshops: evaluations have been very positive.


EAAFP provides a flexible and responsive mechanism for action

Unlike internationally binding MEAs, EAAFP is largely voluntary and informal, with a small Secretariat and focal points in key countries and among international organisations. This can reduce bureaucracy and facilitate quite rapid and flexible responses, including budgetary allocations.


Compelling stories are being told

There has been greater coverage in media of migratory waterbirds and the challenges they face, as well as EAAFP’s actions. This is the case in developing as well as developed countries. An example is the influential Spoon-billed sandpiper journey video.

Contact details: 
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