It was only three years ago that many scientists thought the Yellow Sea would become an ‘epicentre of extinction’, such was the pace and extent of the loss of intertidal mudflats along China’s coast. The populations of many shorebirds in what is known as the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) were in free-fall. In the last 30 years, the population of Red Knot had declined by 58%, the Far Eastern Curlew by 80% and the Curlew Sandpiper by 78% to name a few. And of course the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper was facing imminent extinction.
Today, although there is still a long way to go to secure the future of the millions of migratory shorebirds that rely on this region as a refuelling stop during their incredible journeys from as far away as Australia and New Zealand to their breeding grounds in the Arctic, there is hope.
In 2018 the Chinese government announced a ban on further reclamation of coastal wetlands. This policy decision, taking many by surprise, effectively removed what was considered the biggest threat to migratory shorebirds in the Flyway. Two of the most important sites have since been inscribed as World Heritage Sites and a further 12 are due to be added in the next few years. Focus is now switching to recovery and restoration of sites and tackling the remaining threats to these shorebirds, such as the invasive spartina grass and illegal hunting.
Over the last 12 months, in my role with the Paulson Institute, I have been part of a team, involving the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and EAAFP, producing a video to tell the story of this policy turnaround. Through interviews with scientists, policymakers and NGOs at the heart of the issue, the 14-minute documentary shows how people from across disciplines and international borders worked together to create an evidence base that, ultimately, was too powerful to ignore.
It is a story of hope that shows that, even when things can seem desperate, it’s vital never to give up. As we move towards the UN Conference on Biological Diversity in Kunming in October, that is a very important message.
Watch the video here:
Huge thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, EAAFP and my wonderful colleagues at the Paulson Institute for the terrific teamwork over the last 12 months. Most of all, thank you to all the scientists, NGOs, policymakers, advocates and everyone who has helped count shorebirds whose efforts have given hope to this most diverse, and most threatened of flyways.