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Convention on biological diversity

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1 March 2001


Sixth meeting

Montreal, 12-16 March 2001

Item 5.4 of the provisional agenda*


Case-studies illustrating how the implementation of the Convention on Migratory Species complements the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity

Note by the Executive Secretary

    1. At the request of the secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, the Executive Secretary is circulating herewith, for the information of participants in the sixth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) a four case-studies that illustrate the interrelationship between the Convention on Migratory Species and the Convention on Biological Diversity and highlight how the implementation of the Convention on Migratory Species complements the work and the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

    2. The case-studies are being circulated in the form and language in which they were received from the secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species.


The Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in order to assist the SBSTTA 6 participants in their discussions on substantive issues (agenda item 5.4 Migratory species and cooperation with the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals) present for their consideration, 4 cases studies on migratory species and biodiversity. These cases studies address matters related to the conservation, sustainable use of migratory species, the ecosystem approach and the facilitation, exchange and dissemination of information on migratory species. In a simple and concise manner, they illustrate how the implementation of the CMS complements the implementation of the CBD.

The Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species would like to particularly acknowledge the contributions made by Mr. Gerard Boere (Wetlands International) who prepared the paper on an integrated flyway/ecosystem approach for water bird; Mr. William Perrin (NOAA Fisheries) who wrote the case study on cetaceans, their status and the agreements that deal with them; Mr. Klaus Riede (University of Bonn) who presents the results of the Global Registry of Migratory Species Project (GROMS) on the global exchange and dissemination of electronic information on migratory species and Mr. Roberto Schlatter (Universidad Austral of Chile) who focused on the conservation and sustainable use of the Andean flamingos of South America.


Gerard Boere1
General Introduction2
Bird migration in general and, in particular, north-south migration, is a massive, mainly annual movement of biodiversity around the globe. It involves every country. It also includes the Earth’s most remote areas such as Antarctica. Migratory birds link continents and countries. Range states share responsibilities to conserve specific species.
Bird migration has always attracted great attention from the public at large, from researchers and from those using the resource for subsistence hunting or sport. The migration strategies of species, such as storks, raptors and several wader species are well known, concentrating along a relatively small flyway or at certain geographical areas where large numbers can be observed. Several areas in Europe are famous places to observe concentrated migration of large numbers of birds, such as Falsterbö (Sweden) and Bosporus (Turkey). Outside of Europe places like Eilat in southern Israel, and Point Pelee in Canada are also worth mentioning. Many more such places are located around the globe.
Besides humans there are several examples of predators adapting their whole reproductive cycle to migratory birds as a food source such as the Eleanora’s Falcon (breeding in the Mediterranean Area) and the famous viper of Milos (Greece) both feeding on the millions of passerine birds crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Generally migratory birds are also preyed upon in their wintering quarters by the resident predators. On the other hand the tens of millions of migratory birds are also often seen as the best “pesticide” in wintering areas in tropical countries.
After the breeding season water birds such as geese, ducks and waders migrate in large flocks using a relative small number of areas. These areas are often well known and frequently visited by large numbers of people to harvest or enjoy the views of the large flocks (eco-tourism). Research stations to study bird migration have been established in many places where large-scale bird migration takes place.
Many of these research and bird ringing stations have existed for a long time and are quite famous, such as Helgoland in Germany and Manomet in the USA. Bird ringing is a relatively young technique. In 1999 the technique is 100 years old.
Migration in spring to the Northern breeding areas and the arrival of large numbers has given birth to all kinds of festivals. These festivals often attract large numbers of people and are economically important for the region in which they occur. Examples include Point Pelee; the Spring festival at the Copper River Delta in Alaska when several million shorebirds arrive; and, the Eilat Spring Festival in particular to see the hundreds of thousands raptors returning from Africa to Europe and Asia.
In the whole of the Russian Arctic the first birds arriving in the far north in late May, can be hunted for a limited time and in small bags. These birds are the first living creatures people encounter after the long and dark winter and the spring hunting is a small bonus.
During their migrations, migratory birds are fully dependent on the availability of habitats used as wintering, breeding or stopover sites. Any changes in the quantity and quality of these habitats will have an impact on the species. Therefore migratory water birds are important indicators for environmental changes.
Water birds
Water birds together with raptors and seabirds, among migratory birds, always have been a major field of interest for several groups of people such as researchers, subsistence and sports hunting and for the general public to enjoy (bird watching). There are very good reasons why this is the case:

  • Many of them breed in large colonies with good access for research, observation and sustainable use (eggs, young and adult birds);

  • Their relatively large size helps in observing them in the field; thus facilitating monitoring of populations and numbers; and to be used as a food source (sports and subsistence hunting);

  • Most all species concentrate in large flocks outside the breeding season and at a relative small number of areas thus facilitating census-taking, catching and ringing;

  • Many species are large enough to apply individual marking systems (colour banding with individual numbers, wing tags, neck collars, small radio sets and, in recent years, satellite tracking) and have been of great importance for more fundamentally oriented migration research. The classic method of using metal rings has a number of limitations when it comes to interpreting the results; and

  • Many water bird species (ducks, geese, large waders) are also considered to be pest species for mussel farming (Eider ducks); agricultural crops (geese, swans and ducks, some waders in Africa feeding on rice); grasslands (geese); and, fish farming (cormorants, herons, pelicans, sawbills). This has stimulated research, monitoring and other efforts.

Because of these factors migration routes and water bird numbers are relatively well known, including those of the more rare and endangered species.

Trends in Water bird Populations
Several co-ordinated census programmes are in place for migratory water birds. These include:

  • International Water bird Census (IWC). This was originally restricted to Europe and the Mediterranean area. The IWC started in 1967 and is the longest running internationally co-ordinated biodiversity monitoring programme in the world. The census each year takes place during a weekend in mid-January in the wintering areas. About 10,000-15,000 volunteer counters are involved.

  • More recently, in the 1980s and 1990s, water bird census programmes under IWC have been developed and co-ordinated for the Asia Pacific region, Africa and the Neotropics area (e.g., South America).

  • Many national and regional water bird censuses are carried out or focus on a single species or groups of species.

Wetlands International and its regional offices are co-ordinating several of these water bird censuses programmes by involving a network of national co-ordinators and members of the Specialist Groups network (shared by Wetlands International, BirdLife International and IUCN). When it comes to the active field surveys, close co-operation exists between the members of BirdLife International partners and the national agencies involved in managing protected areas,

The data from the IWC have played an important role in developing the tools for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands to designate wetlands of international importance through the well known 1% criterion whereby any site holding 1% of the population of a water bird species qualifies for inclusion in the list of wetlands of international importance. Databases are decentralised (by species groups and geographically).
At regular times all data available are summarised by Wetlands International in a publication presenting the world water bird population estimates of 840 water bird species with over 2000 subspecies or distinct biogeographical populations. Two volumes have been published so far: Water bird Population Estimates (WPE) 1 (1994) and WPE2 (1997). WPE3 will be published by the end of 2001 or in 2002 in time for the eighth meeting of the Conference of Parties of the Ramsar Convention.
The data are also published by regions. Examples include the International Water bird Census Western Palearctic and Southwest Asia 1995 and 1996 (published in 1999). Annual reports with the results of the African census and several reports with the results of the Asian Water bird censuses have been published. The results of surveys in the Neo-tropical regions will soon be published. Recently also a number of overview reports, in particularly one on shorebirds, have been published for the North American Region and annual reports on population trends in quarry species are produced by the Canadian Wildlife Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These differ per species groups and from region to region.
At a general level the following trends are noticeable:

  • Western Palearctic: increase of most populations of geese, swans and ducks; this is due, to a large extent, to less hunting pressures; waders are stable or slightly decreasing;

  • Asia: decrease of most populations, certainly the resident species;

  • Africa: decrease of many populations, particularly resident species;

  • North America: duck populations decreasing, some geese, Snow Goose in particular increasing; shorebirds: not a clear picture; and

  • South America: not a clear picture, but a number of species decreasing.

In the framework of the many flyway initiatives actions are foreseen to increase monitoring in areas that are less well surveyed such as large parts of Africa, Asia (Central Asia) and South America.

Special attention is given to globally endangered species using the recently published overview by BirdLife International and research published by the Threatened Waterbird Specialist Group.
A major initiative is being developed to organise a so-called “Gap-filling Water bird Census”. This means a one-time maximum effort to survey as many wetlands as possible in a certain region also aiming at sending survey teams to wetland areas never previously surveyed.

The purpose is to have a one-time check on the present population estimates and whether or not the selected areas within the present IWC do give reliable overall figures.

An Action Plan has been worked out for the area of the Western Palearctic and West Asia; funding is being sought to implement the Gap-filling Census in this region in January 2003. If successful, similar activities will be undertaken in other areas.
The Flyway Concept
Generally the definition of a flyway is understood to mean the entire range of a migratory water bird species (or groups of species or distinct populations of a single species) from the breeding ground to the wintering area, including the intermediate resting and feeding places and the relative small area within which the birds migrate. The concept was developed in North America and is widely used if it comes to clearly define what overall problems a migratory water bird encounters in its life cycle and which countries should co-operate to protect and sustainably manage the populations.
Flyways differ considerably in length. For instance: many geese species have relatively short and well-defined flyways (a few thousand kilometres), whereas many Arctic breeding waders migrate huge distances. A species like the Arctic Tern breeds in the Northern Arctic region and winters in the Southern Hemisphere, while circling around the Antarctic continent.
The concept fully supports the ecosystem approach proposed under the CBD, because a flyway is in fact the entire ecosystem needed by a migratory water bird in order to survive. However it may contain several different habitats used by the same species at different times of the year. For example many arctic waders breed in the Northern tundra, a relatively moist green area, but winter in coastal areas with only grey muddy soft substrates or even on the open sea (Phalaropes). On migration they may use for example, the shorelines of fresh water lakes. By taking action to protect an entire flyway many species and many habitats have to be and are protected at the same time.
Moreover the flyway concept, by definition, requires close co-operation between all the range states involved. It can strongly stimulate co-operation between states to build up networks of scientists, conservationists and reserve managers and stimulate a wealth of small-scale initiatives in all fields of biodiversity and habitat conservation.
Multilateral Flyway Initiatives
The following gives a brief overview of various multilateral initiatives at a flyway level (not in a particular order or priority) and in various stages of development or implementation. They also represent a mixture of legally binding and non-binding instruments. Governments initiated some. Others have their origin in science or in the activities of NGOs.
North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP): the “founding father” of the flyway concept, concentrates on the conservation and sustainable management of migratory waterfowl in Canada, USA and Mexico. It is managed by four flyway councils and involves many stakeholders with a special role for landowners. Originally signed in 1986 (after a long process of consultations) and updated in 1994 and 1998.
Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN): a network of large wetlands, coastal areas etc. (the areas are selected on the basis of supporting 5% of a flyway population and not a 1% level as usually used to identify areas of international importance for potential designation under the Ramsar Convention), aiming at conserving the most important sites for migratory shorebirds. New initiatives are under way such as within the US Shorebird Conservation Plan, Canadian Shorebird Plan and others. WHSRN has the potential to evolve into a full flyway agreement and strategy.
Partners in Flight (PIF, 1991) and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI, 1999/2000): these are umbrella organisations/platforms to protect migratory birds in the whole of the Western Hemisphere involving a large number of stakeholders: governmental organisations and NGOs, private landowners and the corporate world. These initiatives include all migratory bird species, not only water birds. They include strong components to protect tropical forests in Central- and South America as wintering area for, among others, passerine birds and raptors (PIF) from North America.
African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA, UNEP/CMS Bonn Convention): this is the largest Agreement under the Bonn Convention both in geographical coverage (about 117 countries) and species (about 175). The AEWA came into force in November 1999 at the time of the First Meeting of the Parties (MOP1) in South Africa. About 30 Range states have ratified. The Secretariat is based at UNEP/CMS in Bonn, Germany. An Action Plan is in place and a PDF B GEF project is being implemented. The latter will mainly focus on information exchange and capacity building in the whole AEWA Agreement area. Furthermore this project contains 12 demonstration projects to demonstrate and disseminate best practices on wetlands and water bird management.
Central Asian-Indian Flyway (CAIF): recent initiatives by UNEP/CMS, Russian and Dutch Governments; AEWA Secretariat and Wetlands International should lead to a co-ordinated effort to develop an Action Plan and, in the long term, an agreement, for this flyway. Here the lack of data about many species has to be addressed in the first place. The geographical area of the CAIF is also included in the APMWCS.
Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy (APMWCS): the strategy includes a large geographical area in which generally three flyways are identified: Central Asian-Indian Flyway; East Asian-Australasian Flyway and the West Pacific Flyway.
In October 2000, a new APMWCS was adopted by the Range states involved and the work is co-ordinated mainly by Wetlands International, with some other NGOs with substantial support from the Governments of Japan and Australia. Several site-based networks have been developed and expanded for cranes, shorebirds and Anatidae, stimulating many bilateral conservation actions on habitat and the wider countryside.
Migratory Birds Commission of the International Council for Wildlife Management (CIC): provides the framework for a number of national and international hunting organisations and their many activities involving among others harvesting water birds, co-ordinating applied research and monitoring.
Regional and Bilateral Flyway Initiatives
Many other arrangements are in place for migratory birds focussing on smaller areas or service bilateral co-operation between countries. The following is an overview of a number of important instruments and arrangements:
EU Bird Directive: with its strong legal protection for both species and their habitats also during migration in all Member States. The candidate member states, about 10 at the moment, have to comply with the EU Directive at the time of their accession to the EU.
Bern Convention: (Convention on the Protection of the European Fauna and Flora and their Habitat, 1979, administered by the Council of Europe) has a specific annex for the protection of migratory species that is the basis for a few African countries to ratify the Bern Convention.
Migratory Birds Convention Canada-USA (1906) and with Mexico (1936): one of the oldest legal instruments includes substantive arrangements for sustainable harvest of water bird populations. A system of Flyway Councils is in place and facilitates many research projects on migratory species. Amended in 1978.
Siberian Crane MoU (UNEP/CMS Bonn Convention): aiming at the conservation of the various small populations of this globally endangered species, each with its distinctive flyway and staging and wintering areas. The MoU provides the basis for active co-operation between governments involved, the NGOs (e.g., the International Crane Foundation) and UNEP/CMS. The MoU is supported by funds from GEF.
Slender billed Curlew MoU (UNEP/CMS Bonn Convention): flyway agreement also for a single species, which is one of the world’s rarest birds. Facilitating a number of conservation activities in wetlands in the former wintering area and surveys of supposed last strongholds in the Middle East.
Bilateral agreements on migratory birds: there are quite a number such as: China-Australia (CAMBA); Russia-India; Australia-Japan (JAMBA); Russia-Japan; USA-Russia; Korea D.P.R-Russia; Japan-USA etc. Canada has agreements on migratory species with Ireland, Russia and the UK.
National legislation: many countries do protect bird species on their territory, including migratory species. However some countries have developed specific legislation concerning the protection of migratory species; examples are the USA and Australia.
Other Initiatives Important for Migratory Water birds
A very large number of other international conventions, treaties and regional co-operating bodies can help protect migratory water birds: the Convention of Algiers, OSPAR, Western Hemisphere Convention, regional treaties in Africa, Asia and North America (NAFTA). Many such bodies have structures in place, such as environmental committees, that can address water bird conservation as an integral part of biodiversity and habitat conservation.
A good example is the Working Group on the Conservation of Arctic Fauna and Flora (CAFF). The CAFF Working Group plays an important role co-ordinating conservation, research and sustainable use efforts at a circumpolar level.
The Arctic is in fact the main “source” for many of the water bird species populating the various flyways around the world. CAFF initiated the publication of a comprehensive overview report on the conservation of Migratory Arctic Breeding Birds outside the Arctic. Of about 250 species analysed, a large percentage is water bird species.
For the Arctic breeding grounds of so many water bird species, the possible effect of climate change is important and may influence, in a negative way, distribution and populations. (WCMC report).
There are other groups of birds, with a close link to water birds, for which major initiatives on a flyway level are in place. This is particularly the case for groups of species or single species of seabirds. For instance:
Albatross work has led to the development of a UNEP/CMS agreement. This has been a high priority given the sharp population declines of these birds as a result of thousands being killed by-catch in the long line fisheries in the Southern Oceans.

  • Migratory water birds constitute a biological resource shared by all countries of the world; conserving and sustainably using migratory water birds also helps the protection of biodiversity of many countries at the same time.

  • Most species are highly migratory covering large distances, concentrating in large numbers at often a small number of places, making them vulnerable to external influences; but attractive for bird watching and ecological tourism at the same time.

  • The flyway concept supports the ecosystem approach by protecting several habitat types at the same time in order to provide breeding, resting and wintering areas during the whole annual cycle.

  • Migratory species really force range states to work together because of shared interest in conserving each other’s biodiversity and assuring that use of species in one country is co-ordinated with other countries to avoid unsustainable use of populations.

  • Monitoring and research of migratory water birds is relatively well developed and is providing models for population ecology, fundamental research on ecology and migration of species and it involves large numbers of volunteers.

  • The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Wild Animals is involved in many of the migratory water bird initiatives and can provide the legal framework for necessary international co-operation.
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