Flying the Flyway: Migratory Shorebird Conservation Program

The East Asian-Australian Flyway:
connecting people, birds and wetlands

International migratory bird species make an annual return trip between northern summer breeding grounds in northern China and Siberia and southern summer feeding grounds in Australia. The single journey of around 12,500 km is completed within 5 – 6 weeks, including refuelling stops. The refuelling takes place in rich mudflat habitats en route, largely in southern China, Japan and Korea, where food species are in sufficient numbers that depleted energy reserves can be quickly restored. This annual migration is truly incredible when one considers the magnitude of the journey, the size of the birds and duration and speed of their flight. This annual migration inspires the human imagination.

The Western Port Biosphere Reserve Foundation wishes to conduct a project to raise the profile of the migratory shorebirds that visit our bay each year. The project will leverage the profile of Biospheres along the East-Asian Australian Flyway (EAAF) to raise awareness of the plight of international migratory shorebirds. Based on decades of data-collection and scientific research regarding these birds and their barely-believable annual flights, the project make use of the unique communication capacities of the arts It will engage communities and land managers along the EAAF in actions to reduce the threats that lead to the population decline that is, unfortunately, occurring.

It is becoming apparent that future generations of humans might not know of this – such is the possibility that these birds will be no more. For example, Red knots (Endangered) and Great knots (Critically endangered) have suffered population declines of around 2.25% per year. Bar-tailed godwits, Eastern curlews and Curlew sandpipers are all listed under the EPBC Act as Critically Endangered. Land reclamation and coastal development are just two of the threatening processes that have led to population decline in these and other threatened and endangered migratory species.

Populations of migratory shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway are in rapid decline, and protecting remaining habitat along all stages of their migratory pathway is crucial for their stabilisation and recovery. This is especially important given the continuing loss of shorebird habitat in the flyway, and the emerging evidence of additional threats impacting the birds, such as coastal habitat degradation .. (and).. hunting .. .1

The East Asian – Australian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) was established to collect and analyse data regarding populations of migratory species, often using data generated by one of the longest standing and very well-regarding citizen science NGO, the Australasian Wader Studies Group. While issues of the study, analysis and action to care for and protect these migratory species are covered in the China Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (CAMBA), the Japan Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (JAMBA) and the Republic Of Korea Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (ROKAMBA), the role of communities along the flyway cannot be overestimated. These are the people in position to take action on the threatening processes, particularly on coastal habitat loss and hunting.

The communities of the flyway are the targets for involvement in this project. The aim is to use the arts as non-language based innovative communication tools to raise awareness of the need to care for and protect wetlands and to engage communities in doing just that. There is a network of UNESCO Biosphere reserves along the Flyway that are credible and authoritative organisations to lead this project. These include the Western Port Biosphere Reserve in Victoria and the Great Sandy Biosphere Reserve in Qld, the Yancheng and Nanji Islands Biosphere Reserves in China, Jeju Island Biosphere Reserve in Korea and ‘the coastal zones, small islands and mangrove swamps’ managed in Japan under the Asia-Pacific Cooperation for the Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural Resources in Biosphere Reserves and Similarly Managed Areas (ASPACO).

The project will:

  • Contribute to the conservation of a number of species of international migratory shorebirds
  • Increase understanding of the environmental conditions and development pressures on waterbirds, wetlands and Ramsar sites.
  • Increase awareness of the East Asian Australasian Flyway and the migration flight
  • Provide a multidisciplinary approach based within science and the arts to communicate with a range of cultural groups and communities on the need for engagement in protecting the flyway.
  • Highlight the need for international collaboration in protecting and managing these areas.
  • Raise awareness of the cultural values of countries on the flyway.
  • Highlight opportunities for destination-based tourism focusing upon environmental conservation
  • Enhance ties between local governments of Biosphere regions, State Government agencies and departments
  • Give effect to the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere program and give benefit to local communities that host a Biosphere.

View the EAAF Partnership brochure here

How you can help protect our shorebirds:

  • Respect the rules of the beach you are on. If it says no dogs, please walk your dog elsewhere.
  • If you are allowed to walk your dog, please keep him/her on their leash and away from known feeding and breeding areas.
  • Cats do not belong on beaches. Keep them at home.
  • Avoid driving four-wheel drive vehicles on beaches where birds are known to roost or nest, particularly at high tide.
  • Keep your distance from birds. They do not want to fly unnecessarily, they would rather eat or rest.
  • Do report on the local authorities anything you see on the beach – whether it’s a bird nesting or people breaking the rules.
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