Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) - Americas

Belize Barrier Reef Complex Photo: Camelia TWU / Flickr

BirdLife has identified 12,000 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) worldwide, representing the largest global network of important sites for biodiversity. Identified using internationally agreed criteria applied by local experts, IBAs are the sites needed to ensure the survival of viable populations of most of the world’s bird species. They hold a large and representative proportion of other biodiversity too. Though large enough to support self-sustaining populations of key species, they are small enough to be conserved in their entirety. 

To date, 2345 IBAs have been identified in the Americas, with almost 3000 expected when the process is complete. Important Bird Areas of the Americas: Priority Sites for Biodiversity Conservation, published in 2009, was the result of a collaborative effort in all 57 countries and territories across the hemisphere, including the 23 organisations of the BirdLife Americas Partnership. 

IBAs so far identified cover an area of 3,284,602 km2, representing 7.9% of the land area of the Americas. Thirty-one percent of the IBAs are fully protected, 22% are partially protected, and the remainder are either unprotected or without information.

Among other site-based conservation initiatives, IBAs have become the basis for identifying Key Biodiversity Areas in the Caribbean and Central America, and have been used to draw up site “shadow lists” for the Ramsar Convention and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

IBAs are functional tools for implementing international environmental agreements. For example, sites will play a key role in regional agreements or memoranda under the Convention on Migratory Species. IBAs have also been employed to meet obligations within the Convention on Biological Diversity, such as national reports, National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, and the Programme of Work on Protected Areas. 

IBAs are also used to inform the safeguard policies of major donors, such as regional and multilateral investment banks, when defining critical natural habitats within development proposals. Large corporations in the extractive industries use them to avoid, mitigate or compensate for damage done by their operations.

Finally, IBAs have become part of local community conservation and sustainable livelihoods initiatives.

IBAs in Brazil

In 2004, SAVE Brasil (BirdLife Partner) was established with the mission of conserving birds, their habitats and biodiversity, and working with people towards the sustainable use of natural resources. One of the first tasks was to identify the country’s IBAs. 

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world at over 8.5 million square kilometres, and includes three of the world’s most extensive biomes: the Amazon Rainforest, the Pantanal Wetlands and the Cerrado savannas. Brazil also has the largest remaining remnants of the Atlantic Forest, the most threatened biome in the Americas. 

The first part of the study was completed in 2006, with the publication of Important Bird Areas in Brazil: Part I – the Atlantic Forest Region. This book described 163 IBAs in the Atlantic Forest, the Caatinga, the Pampa, and portions of the Cerrado.

The second volume, Important Bird Areas in Brazil: Part II – Amazon, Cerrado and Pantanal, was published in 2010, and described a further 74 IBAs. 

Together, the 237 IBAs covered more than 94 million hectares, 11% of Brazilian territory. Only 21% of the sites are protected, 39% are partially protected, and the remaining 40% have no official protection at all.  

The two IBA directories are contributing to the protection of key sites for biodiversity in Brazil. For example, the second volume is being used by Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment to guide the Ecological-Economic Macro-zoning of the Brazilian Amazon.

IBAs in the Caribbean

There are 285 IBAs in the Caribbean, documented in a range of regional and national publications. With the BirdLife network as chief advocate, these internationally important sites for bird conservation are being mainstreamed into conservation and development planning, and national legislation.

For example, IBAs have been included in the 2009–2013 Strategic Plan for the National Protected Areas System in Cuba, and the National Master Plan for Protected Areas in the Bahamas. IBAs are built into Bonaire’s Spatial Planning Scheme, Montserrat’s updated National Physical Development Plan, and Grenada’s new System Plan for Protected Areas. IBAs are also being identified as high priority eco-zones within the Nature Policy Plan for St Eustatius, Saba and Bonaire.

The Ramsar Secretariat is promoting a list of IBAs to governments as candidates for designation as wetlands of international importance. For example, in the Dominican Republic, the Laguna Cabral IBA was designated as a Ramsar site. IBAs identified for seabirds are also informing the designation of Ecological or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs) by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The BirdLife Caribbean network has helped secure new protected areas at a significant number of IBAs, such as the Humedal Sur de Pinar del Río, Caletones and Delta del Mayarí IBAs in Cuba. In the Dominican Republic, the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve was created, and advocacy at local level led to the designation of the country’s first Municipal Protected Areas such as at the Cabo Rojo wetland. In the Bahamas, three IBAs have been included in a proposal for national parks on the island of San Salvador.

The BirdLife network’s interventions at IBAs include working with Local Conservation Groups, strategic land purchase, reforestation, providing drinking water and schooling to remote communities (Haiti), and restoring an abandoned shooting swamp as a “no-hunting” shorebird refuge (Barbados).

The project “Sustainable Conservation of Globally Important Caribbean Bird Habitats: Strengthening a Regional Network for a Shared Resource” ran from 2003 to 2007, with funding from the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Environment Facility (GEF). Based in the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, this project enabled the development of a strong network of organisations committed to the conservation of Caribbean birds and biodiversity at IBAs. It also involved working with local governments, NGOs and regional support groups to enhance conservation efforts and improve public awareness at IBAs through training around 450 teachers, setting up small scale eco-tourism ventures, and organising events such as the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival. In 2011, the work was recognised as one of the 20 best projects in GEF’s 20-year history.


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