Twenty years after hosting an influential meeting that catalysed migratory waterbird conservation in the Asia–Pacific region, the city of Kushiro in Japan again provided a spectacular wintry venue for the latest meeting of partners of the East Asian–Australasian Flyway Partnership. In December 1994 the workshop Conservation of migratory waterbirds and their wetlands in the East Asian–Australasian flyway was held in Kushiro, bringing together representatives of governments from 16 countries, two inter-governmental organizations, and two non-governmental organizations to discuss, for the first time, a multilateral approach to conserving migratory waterbirds in the region. Attendees agreed then that ‘the current decline in the numbers of migratory waterbirds in the flyway and the degradation and loss of wetland habitats on which these species depend, should be stopped and reversed’. Accordingly, a work plan was proposed for the establishment of a formal multilateral agreement to conserve these species (The Stilt, 1995, 26, 7–8). This arrangement crystallized in 2006 as the East Asian–Australasian Flyway Partnership, a non-legally binding agreement, with participation of state and non-state actors. The 8th meeting of the Partnership was held in Kushiro in January 2015, bringing together representatives from 16 countries, two inter-governmental organizations, and eight non-governmental organizations. This meeting was attended by six people who were also present at the founding event in 1994 and who have been instrumental in waterbird conservation in this flyway.
Although many migratory waterbird species have declined in this region there is some hope of achieving conservation outcomes. This flyway encompasses the migratory range of c. 285 waterbird species that complete their life cycle anywhere from Australia and New Zealand to Siberia and Alaska. The Partnership covers 25 bird families, with four focal groups (Anatidae, seabirds, cranes and shorebirds). Fifty-five of the species are categorized as globally threatened on the IUCN Red List as a consequence of multiple threats, including habitat loss and hunting. However, conservation efforts already appear to have aided the recovery of at least one species, the black-faced spoonbill Platalea minor.
Some challenges of the Flyway Site Network, a habitat-based conservation approach, were addressed at the meeting. Currently, of 906 potential sites identified as part of the Network, only 13.6% have been designated as protected areas. Moreover, the boundaries of 73% of the designated sites are unknown, potentially undermining effective management. Recent cooperation with the Ramsar Convention has, however, facilitated training for Network site managers, potentially improving conservation outcomes. The need for a formal monitoring protocol for the Network, to identify and redress emerging management issues, was agreed at the meeting.
Since the last meeting of the partners, the Network and the Partnership membership have expanded. New sites have been designated in Mongolia (one site), Japan (two), Myanmar (three), Australia (one) and Thailand (two), and four new partners have joined (Myanmar, Vietnam, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, and the Convention on Biological Diversity). The accession of the Convention on Biological Diversity is particularly important, as its national focal points are different to those of the Partnership, potentially leveraging its implementation through additional support from national governments.
Habitat loss is an important driver of shorebird population declines in this flyway (Biological Conservation, 2010, 143, 2238–2247; Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2014, 12, 267–272), yet hunting may also warrant attention. A review of the hunting of migratory shorebirds was presented at the meeting and, although this activity has been widespread, the evidence is fragmented and no monitoring is in place. Consequently, delegates called for a flyway-wide situation analysis on hunting of migratory shorebirds and to extend it to include other waterbird species.
Several emerging topics were also discussed. As countries in the flyway transition to renewable energy, bird strikes from wind turbines may become relevant. In one session the potential impacts of this infrastructure, and regulatory frameworks to minimize collisions, were presented. Additionally, as there has been large-scale loss of intertidal flats in the Yellow Sea (Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2014, 12, 267–272), there was discussion of a potential transboundary offsetting scheme across the flyway, as well as on researching the feasibility of habitat restoration.
The meeting indicated that the East Asian–Australasian Flyway Partnership is now gathering momentum and transitioning from negotiation to implementation. The event concluded with an agreed work plan for 2015–2016, which partners will report against at the next meeting in 2017, tentatively to be held in Singapore. For access to the full minutes of the meeting see http://www.eaaflyway.net