East Asian Flyway coastal wetlands face an ecological crisis

Credit: HKBWS)

The rapid decline in the numbers of Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a reflection of an ecological crisis along the coast of East Asia. In 2011, the IUCN Species Survival Commission and IUCN Asia Regional Office commissioned an independent report to assess the state and condition of intertidal habitats along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, in response to growing concerns expressed by IUCN members over observed declines in biodiversity, the loss of ecological services, and an increase in ecological disasters.

The IUCN situation analysis on East and Southeast Asian intertidal habitats, with particular reference to the Yellow Sea was launched in September 2012 at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea. The report shows that East Asian intertidal habitats (including beaches, marshes, mudflats, mangroves and seagrass beds) are being lost at a rate unprecedented for the coastal zone elsewhere in the world. Some countries have lost more than half of their coastal wetland area to land reclamation since 1980.

As a consequence, a higher number of waterbirds are globally threatened in the EAAF than in any of the other seven major flyways of the world. Most of these species are dependent on tidal flats, in particular 24 globally threatened or Near Threatened species of shorebirds (including Spoon-billed Sandpiper), waterfowl, spoonbills, cranes, seabirds and pelicans.

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress, BirdLife sponsored a motion on the “Conservation of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway intertidal zone, with particular reference to the Yellow Sea and its threatened birds”. The motion was adopted with the unanimous support of voting IUCN governmental members, including from key governments in the flyway such as China and South Korea.

This gives a clear mandate for the conservation community to work with governments in East Asia for the conservation of intertidal wetlands. The charismatic Spoon-billed Sandpiper, which is entirely dependent on these wetlands for its survival, is the ideal flagship for this vital challenge.

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