Preventing extinction through education
With an estimated population of not more than 50 birds, the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern Sterna bernsteini is China's most threatened bird and much rarer than the Giant Panda. The greatest threat to the tern's survival is egg collection by fishermen for food, which continues even though the breeding sites are within protected areas.
In order to raise public awareness about this species, the BirdLife International China Programme in conjunction with the Zhejiang Wild Bird Society and the Fujian Bird Watching Society organised a series of educational student workshops. These were predominantly for children from fishing families living near Mazu and Jiushan Islands, where breeding colonies of Chinese Crested Terns are found.
"We hope that through these workshops, children will bring the message of conserving Chinese Crested Tern home and influence their fishing families", said Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Officer of the BirdLife Asia Division.
The campaign has had some success in Fujian Province, with five schools taking part. In October 2009, the BirdLife team visited Xiangshan County, and Lianjiang County, Fujian Province. These are the towns closest to where the Chinese Crested Terns breeds and where egg poaching is a serious problem.
"With more people learning about the rarity of Chinese Crested Tern, we hope that both the consumption and illegal collection of their eggs can be reduced" —Dr Chen Shuihua, Zhejiang Wild Bird Society
At total of about 200 students attended these workshops. Through the workshops students gained an understanding of the urgent need for the conservation work for this threatened species and they voluntarily set up Chinese Crested Tern Conservation Groups in their schools. These Conservation Groups are now responsible for promoting Chinese Crested Tern in their schools and also in the local communities by distributing posters and booklets.
Besides the student workshops, promotional materials were also distributed in a public park in Xiangshan County and seaside restaurants where tourists consume seabird eggs.
"With more people learning about the rarity of Chinese Crested Tern, we hope that both the consumption and illegal collection of their eggs can be reduced", concluded Dr Chen Shuihua, President of the Zhejiang Wild Bird Society.
The establishment of the Chinese Crested Tern Conservation Groups is just the beginning of the local awareness programme. The groups will be asked to present their activities at a workshop scheduled to be held in summer of 2010. In addition, a workshop and training course on management of breeding seabird colonies on islands is also scheduled to be held in China in the summer of 2010.
First discovered in 1861, Chinese Crested Tern was largely presumed extinct until 2000, when four adults and four chicks were found amongst a colony of other tern species on Matsu Island off the Fujian coast. In 2004, it was discovered breeding on the Jiushan Islands. At present these are the only known breeding sites in the world. China has a good record on taking action to save other bird species from extinction so hopefully they can rise to this challenge.
Chinese Crested Tern is one of the species benefitting from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. The programme is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world's most threatened birds, starting with the 192 species classified as Critically Endangered.
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