Hundreds of important sites for nature threatened with destruction

By Martin Fowlie, 14 Nov 2014

More than 350 of the planet’s most important sites for nature are threatened with being lost forever according to a new report by BirdLife International.

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are places of international significance for the conservation of the world’s birds and other nature, with over twelve thousand having been identified worldwide. IBAs are the largest and most comprehensive global network of important sites for nature conservation. Now, 356 of these – known as ‘IBAs in Danger’ – have been identified in 122 countries and territories as being in imminent danger of being lost. About half of these are legally protected, which highlights the importance of improving the management effectiveness of protected areas.

“‘IBAs in Danger’ provides an  essential focus for governments, development agencies, the  international environmental and  conservation conventions, business and wider civil society to act to prevent the further damage or loss of these sites of international significance”, said Melanie Heath, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information.

“Collectively we must work together to mitigate these threats, strengthen the implementation of national and local laws and policies ensuring environmental safeguards are implemented at the earliest stages of development, as well as enhancing  the management of these sites”.

The threatened Mallee Emuwren is found in the Murray Sunset National Park - an IBA in Danger (Tony Chittenden)Examples of ‘IBAs in Danger’ include the lowland forests of the island of São Tomé - which are threatened by industrial scale plantations, hydroelectric dam building as well as illegal hunting, and the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand - a key feeding area for many globally threatened seabirds and marine mammals. Unfortunately, the ingestion of plastic debris is estimated to be higher at this site than any other worldwide.

The new report Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas: a global network for conserving nature and benefiting people – being launched at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia – details aspects of the work of the IBA programme over the last four decades. IBAs have proven extremely influential, by helping to target conservation effort at priority sites, by stimulating the designation of formal protected areas for many sites and by inspiring similar approaches for other taxa.

“BirdLife's four decades of work on this is excellent analysis for underpinning species protection. The 12,000 IBAs are the largest global network of key sites for protecting birds, other animals and plants." - Gregory Andrews, Australian Government’s Threatened Species Commissioner.

‘IBAs in Danger’ overlap with no fewer than 56 Wetlands of International Importance. The main threats to these sites are inappropriate water management, recreation and agriculture. Yet, these areas variously provide free water treatment and flood defences and also support the livelihoods for people living around them.

Since the IBA programme’s inception in the late 1970s, BirdLife International, through its 120 National Partners, has applied this influential approach to site conservation in virtually all of the world’s countries and territories, both on land and at sea. As such, in addition to the programme’s significant direct contribution to bird and wider biodiversity conservation, many hundreds of protected areas have been designated as a direct consequence of their recognition as IBAs. IBAs have also had considerable and, indeed, increasing relevance in developing responses to a number of wider environmental issues, such as habitat loss, ecosystem degradation, sustainable resource use and climate change.

   Read the report

Explore the interactive map

Read our Spotlight on IBAs