5 Jul 2019

Yellow Sea shorebird habitats secure World Heritage listing

Key sites along the Chinese coastline of the Yellow Sea have secured World Heritage status, a lifeline for 17 globally threatened migratory shorebird species that rely on these habitats. The decision follows tireless advocacy from BirdLife Australia and reflects China’s role as a leader in global conservation.

The Far Eastern Curlew (Endangered) relies on the Yellow Sea as a migratory stopover site © Wang LiQiang / Shutterstock
The Far Eastern Curlew (Endangered) relies on the Yellow Sea as a migratory stopover site © Wang LiQiang / Shutterstock
By Jessica Law

Conservationists the world over are celebrating the decision to grant key sites along the Chinese coast of the Yellow Sea world heritage status. The news was announced following discussions at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan this morning. The mudflats of the Yellow Sea are vitally important for the survival of more than 17 globally threatened migratory shorebirds species, including the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea (Critically Endangered) and Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis (Endangered).

Birdlife Australia has played a crucial leading role in advocating for this decision. The Yellow Sea is at the centre of the East Asian–Australasian Flyway, a migration ‘super highway’ which supports the world’s greatest diversity and overall numbers of migratory birds. It links the bird populations of more than 22 countries, with Australia being the non-breeding destination of many species which pass through the region.

“The Australian Government should be congratulated for playing a significant leadership role in ensuring this World Heritage listing; reflecting the global importance of this site for our migratory shorebirds and the strength of China’s nomination,” said BirdLife Australia CEO Paul Sullivan.

Long-term monitoring by BirdLife Australia has shown that the number of Far Eastern Curlews visiting Australia has crashed by more than 80 per cent in the last 30 years. 

The listing will help protect important areas of coastal wetland habitat still remaining after decades of reclamation and conversion to industrial land. BirdLife Australia and its global partner BirdLife International applauded the decision in Baku to permanently protect and manage key sites in the Yellow Sea.

“BirdLife International would like to commend the government of China for its central role in protecting the Yellow Sea and safeguarding birds across the entire flyway. Today’s success, which is in line with China’s eco-civilisation policy, shows what can be achieved when governments choose to lead the way in global conservation,” said Chief Executive of BirdLife International, Patricia Zurita.

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“China has shown real global leadership by announcing a moratorium on coastal reclamation and securing World Heritage listing for the Yellow Sea ecosystem,” added Mr Sullivan. “We hope the decision will also help to expedite the inscription of other important sites in South Korea next year, China in 2022 and, hopefully, North Korea.”

Australia has bi-lateral agreements in place with China, the Republic of Korea and Japan to protect migratory shorebirds.

Mr Sullivan said the decision in Baku is also significant because China will host the 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nation’s Convention for Biological Diversity in 2020. BirdLife International and its country partners are calling on all governments to commit to a comprehensive new global deal for nature with ambitious targets at the meeting.

“It’s our last chance to save nature,” Mr Sullivan said. “A recent UN Global Assessment reported that business as usual will result in the loss of a million species, as well as food and water shortages.”

We hope that today’s decision is a promising sign of things to come as governments worldwide wake up the environmental challenges of the coming years.