Twice a year, billions of birds take to the sky to migrate between breeding grounds in the Arctic to more temperate and tropical areas further south.
These birds often follow well-established routes, known as flyways. The East Asian-Australasian Flyway is one of the world’s great migratory flyways and encompasses 22 countries – stretching from Siberia in Russia and Alaska in the United States, through East Asia and Southeast Asia on to Australia and New Zealand.
More than 50 million migratory waterbirds from over 250 populations traverse it each year – some going the entire distance and others staying in wetlands along the route.
The East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which is the largest migratory bird corridor on Earth, is also the most threatened flyway in the world with about 50 of the bird species that use it currently considered at risk of extinction.
Waterbirds rely on a system of coastal wetlands to rest and feed during their migration, to allow them to build up enough energy for the next phase of their journey. A major portion of the flyway is over the highly and densely populated eastern part of China, where wetlands have been decreasing sharply since the turn of the century.
According to the Second National Wetland Inventory, China lost about 1.36 million hectares of near-shore and coastal wetlands from 2003 to 2013 – about twice the annual rate of loss seen between 1950 and 2000. Wetland loss and degradation, along with declining ecosystem services, have made the coastal region of East China a section of the flyway that is highly vulnerable to ecological threats.
A Global Environment Facility-funded project is working to provide respite for threatened migratory waterbirds through an improved network of protected wetlands along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway in China.
The project, managed by the UN Development Programme and China’s National Forestry and Grasslands Administration, will contribute toward the implementation of China’s national Wetland Protection and Restoration System Plan.
It will focus in part on improving site-based management at four model protected areas for migratory species: Liao River Delta, Yellow River Delta, Chongming Dongtan, and Dashanbao – all of which are on the flyway.
The initiative will support the expansion of the flyway wetland protected areas system by adding critical sites for migratory waterbirds.
It will also help set in motion a protected area system master plan as well as a flyway conservation strategy that sets out funding needs and innovative funding opportunities for flyway conservation. It will also set up a national coordination mechanism to bring together government agencies and sectors to work together to support protected areas.
Once completed, the project is expected to enable the expansion of 200,000 hectares of protected area in China, and provide financial and technical support that will strengthen the capacity to manage around 300,000 hectares of internationally important wetlands.