16 Feb 2016

What are the world’s most critically endangered sites?

By Shaun Hurrell, Zoltan Waliczky

You've heard of many of the world's critically endangered species. The Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in Danger are the world's critically endangered sites.

How do you effectively conserve the world's birds and other nature with limited resources? You need to prioritise important places for conservation to succeed.

Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are the sites of international significance for the conservation of the world's birds and other nature.

BirdLife has identified 12,000 IBAs worldwide.

But some of these sites are under most immediate threat from damage or destruction and need our urgent attention: these are the IBAs in Danger.

For several decades now BirdLife International has been the global authority to maintain the Red List of Birds. Since 2013, it has also been publishing the list of IBAs in Danger which are the most threatened sites as identified by BirdLife Partners on the basis of monitoring data. The new, up-dated 2015 list launched today has 422 IBAs in Danger in more than 100 countries.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

You can explore all the IBAs in Danger in BirdLife’s new interactive Story Map.

What threatens the most threatened sites?

The most common threats to IBAs are agriculture, water management, fires, hunting, logging, collecting animals and plants and disturbance.

Unfortunately, protected areas are not immune from these threats as over half of the IBAs in Danger identified have at least partial protection at the national or international level.

Two-hundred of these sites are wetlands, including 70 that are overlapping with existing Wetlands of International Importance designated under the Ramsar Convention. There are also 11 World Heritage Sites on the list, including such outstanding areas as Doñana in Spain and Everglades in the USA.

The BirdLife Partnership’s response

Taking up the challenge, BirdLife Partners, local conservation groups, other NGOs and government agencies are already taking actions at two-thirds of these IBAs. Recent successes include the European Court of Justice´s decision to condemn Bulgaria for not protecting Kaliakra, a global stronghold on the Black Sea coast for wintering Red-breasted Goose.

A year ago, we reported on the successful fight of Panamanian organisations to restore the protected area status of Upper Panama Bay, a wintering site for millions of migratory waterbirds. Last December, Rosabel Miro, Executive Director of Panama Audubon Society (BirdLife in Panama) received the Disney Conservation Heroes award for her role in this process.

Staff from Panama Audubon Society celebrate the good news © PAS

Unfortunately, there are also IBAs for which help came too late. Thyolo Mountain Forest Reserve in Malawi has been lost through conversion to agriculture fields and its recovery is highly unlikely. BirdLife invites all relevant stakeholders and the conservation community to work hard to avoid further IBAs in Danger to slip into oblivion.

Birds: the messengers

Birds provide a practical focus for conservation areas. They have been shown to be effective indicators of biodiversity in other animal groups and plants – especially when used to define a set of sites for conservation. So although the IBA network is defined by its bird fauna, the conservation of these sites ensures the survival of a correspondingly large number of other animals and plants.

Red-breasted Geese at Kaliakra IBA © Daniel Mitev

What next?

BirdLife International is working hard with its Partners to respond to the growing threats faced by IBAs through campaigns to raise public awareness. It has also helped Partners to develop effective site safeguard measures. During recent years, BirdLife Partners have been active at 232 IBAs in Danger, carrying out a diverse range of activities at the local and national level.

Through the Partners, BirdLife works with an estimated 2500 voluntary Local Conservation Groups around the globe to monitor and care for ‘their’ IBAs.

You can help by sharing the story map to raise awareness of these critically endangered sites, and continue to support BirdLife, especially when an urgent IBA in Danger campaign needs support.

Further information:


IBAs in Danger Story Map: