Godwits by Glenn EhmkeResearch in recent years has revealed that many species of migratory shorebird that visit Australia every year are in dire trouble. Twelve migratory shorebird species are in rapid decline across Australia with several species now declared nationally threatened.

Scientists monitoring the situation, including many CEED researchers, have a good idea of what lies behind the unfolding crisis and have made repeated calls for appropriate changes in government policy. Earlier this month the Australian Government responded by releasing a new plan to help protect 35 species of migratory shorebirds that regularly travel thousands of kilometres to visit our shores.

“There are promising signs this plan will make a difference,” says Associate Professor Richard Fuller from the University of Queensland.

“Part of that difference is an acknowledgement that we need to work more closely with other countries on the migratory routes of these species to take action in saving critical habitat.

“We’ve learnt a lot in recent years about the plight of migratory shorebirds. And while there are many things we can do in Australia to improve their chances, the places they really depend upon are overseas, particularly in China and Korea. But of course we don’t have sovereignty in these regions so it’s all about how we can constructively engage other nations along the migratory route.”

Migratory shorebirds need safe havens to rest and feed all along the route of their migration. If one site they depend on is lost, they might not be able to complete their journey.

“The biggest single threat to our shorebirds is loss of habitat along the coastlines of China and Korea,” explains Fuller.

“This Yellow Sea region is the crucial re-fuelling stop for many of our birds as they migrate to the Arctic and back.

“Work by CEED-affiliated researchers showed that 67% of the critical habitat the birds need as they pass through China and Korea has been lost in the past 50 years. This is mainly a result of coastal reclamation and changes in river flows. Australian shorebirds that depend most on China and Korea while on migration, are declining the fastest.”

The new plan recognises that conserving migratory shorebirds requires coordination and cooperation between countries along their migration route, and it provides the foundation for our engagement in various international forums such as the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership.

The East Asian-Australasian Flyway extends from breeding grounds in the Russian tundra, Mongolia, and Alaska southwards through east and south-east Asia, to non-breeding areas in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

The plan is guiding Australia’s bilateral talks with Japan, China and the Republic of Korea on how threats to migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea region can be managed with the help of local communities.

On top of this, the Minister for the Environment announced that the Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews will take on the role of an emissary to East Asia, working to understand how best to achieve shorebird habitat conservation in this centrally important location in the flyway.

“I’m delighted to see the Commonwealth Government moving decisively on this issue” says Fuller.

“This sends a clear message to every country in this flyway – Australia is serious about saving our migratory birds. If we get it right, this could lead to real change.”

More information: Richard Fuller This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Image: A flock of bar-tailed godwits (plus some other waders). Migratory shorebirds such as these have been experiencing worrying declines in recent years. (Photo by Glenn Ehmke)

For more information on the many challenges facing migratory shorebirds see Decision Point, CEED’s research magazine. Here are stories on some of the specific challenges facing migratory shorebirds that have been discussed in Decision Point.

Conserving Migratory Species: Planning for complex migratory networks – Decision Point #92

Between a rock and a hard place: The disappearance of tidal flats in the that fringe China and Korea – Decision Point #81

Migratory shorebirds, citizen science and scientific certainty – Decision Point #67

Birds in the Red - The decline of migratory shorebirds – Decision Point #59