I stumbled across this press release from The University of NSW. I don't know
if any of the media have picked it up, but I figured it may be of interest to
members of this list.
UNSW Faculty of Science
Embargoed to 6am, Thursday 10 April 2008
Shorebird numbers crash: survey alarm
"Three-quarters of eastern Australia's millions of resident and migratory
have disappeared in just one generation." - Professor Richard Kingsford
One of the world's great wildlife spectacles is under way across Australia: as
two million migratory shorebirds of 36 species are gathering around Broome
an amazing 10,000-kilometre annual flight to their northern hemisphere breeding
But an alarming new study has revealed that both these migrants and Australia's
one million resident shorebirds have suffered a massive collapse in numbers
past 25 years.
A large scale aerial survey study covering the eastern third of the continent by
researchers at the University of New South Wales has identified that migratory
shorebirds populations there plunged by 73% between 1983 and 2006, while
Australia's 15 species of resident shorebirds - such as avocets and stilts -
declined by 81%. The study is published in the scientific journal Biological
It is the first long-term analysis of shorebird populations and health at an
continental scale and reveals a disturbing trend of serious long-term decline.
"This is a truly alarming result: in effect, three-quarters of eastern
Australia's millions of
resident and migratory shorebirds have disappeared in just one generation,"
author of the report, Professor Richard Kingsford.
"The wetlands and resting places that they rely on for food and recuperation are
shrinking virtually all the way along their migration path, from Australia
Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and up through Asia into China and Russia."
The study also revealed for the first time that Australia's inland wetlands are
particularly important for migratory shorebirds, along with the better-known
sites - such as Roebuck Bay, Port Phillip Bay, the Hunter River estuary and
Of the 10 wetlands supporting the highest number of shorebirds within survey
across eastern Australia, eight were inland and only two coastal.
This makes shorebirds vulnerable to the effects of damming rivers and
water. Four of the ten wetlands had been substantially reduced in size during
"Loss of wetlands due to river regulation is one of the more significant
this drastic decline, but it appears such a threat is largely unrecognised in
conservation plans and international agreements," says Professor Kingsford, who
authored the report with Silke Nebel and John Porter, of the UNSW School of
Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.
The fact that resident shorebirds in eastern Australia have also suffered
declines points to serious conservation problems within the continent, they
reflects the pressures on river systems such as the Murray-Darling Basin. Other
shorebird populations in Australia's north and west, however, may not have
The migratory shorebirds make an annual flight from Australia during March and
to their breeding grounds in northern China, Mongolia, Siberia and Alaska. These
birds make the extraordinary journey of to 10,000 kilometres over a period of
few weeks, some of them flying non-stop.
"Australia has international responsibilities for the conservation of these
species and it
has migratory bird agreements with Korea, Japan and China in place, but these do
not appear to be stopping this long term decline," Professor Kingsford says.
As the migratory shorebirds wing their way up the east coast of Asia (known as
East Asian-Australasian Flyway), they are increasingly vulnerable to many
Many are hunted but the most serious issue is the loss of their staging
they stop to recuperate during their arduous journey. Here they need build up
reserves for the next part of their journey. Sometimes, many migratory
use a single site.
The key staging site for the migratory shorebirds leaving Australia is the
where all 36 species concentrate, but the river catchments draining into the
Sea host a growing population of about 600 million people in China and South
Korea (about 10% of the world's population).
"Agriculture and industry are progressively reclaiming the tidal feeding
migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea" said Professor Kingsford. "Our
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."
Saemangeum, the most important shorebird site in the Yellow Sea, is being
reclaimed with no apparent effort on behalf of the South Korean or Australian
Government to stop it.
"Australia could do better" says Kingsford.
"We need to properly recognise our international obligations for shorebirds
shores when we decide to develop rivers and wetlands. We must try to meet our
side of the bargain for their conservation if we are to influence other
protect their breeding and staging grounds."
Identifying and adequately protecting wetlands of high conservation value for
migratory shorebirds and protect their water supply is paramount, he believes.
Worldwide, shorebird numbers are in decline. Of the 237 species with trend data,
more than half are in decline, while only 8% are increasing.
Shorebirds are spectacular migratory birds, travelling almost the whole planet,
north to south. They spend half their lives in Australia and the other half
Russia and China.
Media contacts: (not for publication)
Richard Kingsford, Professor of Environmental Science, UNSW School of
Earth and Environmental Science - 0419 634 215
Bob Beale, UNSW Faculty of Science media liaison - 0411 705 435
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