Overhunting of migratory shorebirds in the Asia-Pacific region has reached an all-time high - and conservationists are concerned.
"The Asia-Pacific is host to one of the most amazing animal migrations on earth," said University of Queensland Ph.D. student Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao, who led a recent study on the topic. "Every year, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds, wetland-dependent species, breed across the Arctic and boreal regions, moving south to Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand along a migration corridor known as the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.
"The Flyway spans 22 countries, through which 61 species of shorebirds complete their epic annual migrations, some covering up to 25,000 km each year. But many of these fascinating birds are unfortunately declining, with several on the brink of extinction.”
According to Gallo-Cajiao’s research, three-quarters of these species have been hunted in the last half-century, and hunting isn’t the only threat that they face.
"Until now, habitat loss due to the expansion of coastal infrastructure had been identified as one of the main causes of their declines, particularly around the Yellow Sea region of China and the Korean peninsula, where many birds stop to rest and feed on their migrations. The scale and significance of hunting were unknown prior to this study, and it's clear that it's likely contributed to declines of migratory shorebirds in this region."
To determine that scale, the research team analyzed data from hunting records of 46 species throughout 14 countries. Unfortunately, there was not enough data from all of the countries spanning the Flyway corridor and eight countries were missing from the analysis.
The team found five critically endangered shorebird species, including the spoon-billed sandpiper, the great knot, far eastern curlew, and spotted greenshank. There are currently fewer than 500 spoon-billed sandpipers known to exist.
"Internationally coordinated approaches to address hunting are now underway, including through the UN Convention on Migratory Species, but these efforts need to be drastically ramped up to avoid extinctions and maintain healthy wildlife populations,” concludes UQ Professor Richard Fuller, who collaborated on the study. "Additional ground surveys and an international coordinated monitoring strategy are also urgently needed."