Migratory birds: Global ambassadors of nature

Danial Norjidi

The conservation of migratory birds is a collective endeavour, and it is important to recognise the intricate link between migratory bird species and the well-being of the people.

This was shared in a statement by ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) Executive Director Dr Theresa Mundita S Lim in conjunction with this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, which took place on May 8.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact many countries, slowing down economies and grounding social activities, including work and leisure,” said the executive director. “The anthropause, or the slowing down of human activities at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded us time to reflect on the innate link between human and nature.”

“This year’s World Migratory Bird Day theme, ‘Sing, Fly, Soar – like a Bird’ reminds us to connect with nature and wildlife, particularly the migratory bird species,” she continued. “The theme highlights the ‘bird song’ and ‘bird flight’ phenomenon that people from around the world appreciate, thus, making the conservation of these species a collective endeavour.”

“Migratory birds are our unsung heroes – they pollinate and disperse seeds, they help regulate pests and diseases; and their majestic beauty enriches the culture in the communities around the ecosystems they thrive in.”

Terns stop over the Tubbataha Reefs National Park, one of the internationally important wetlands in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway for migratory birds. PHOTO: LENE AND CLAUS TOPP

“The diversity of migratory bird species that visit key biodiversity areas play key roles in ensuring the integrity of ecosystems from which we derive vital services, such as food, water, and medicines. Their ability to transcend boundaries make them effective ‘global ambassadors of nature’ for linking ecosystems and strengthening cooperation across the lands and the people within their flyway.”

“Listening to bird songs and watching them take flight connect us with nature, despite the limited mobility during the pandemic. They have become our ‘antidote’ to the stresses and pressures and scientists are now looking into establishing the linkage between emotional and mental well-being and birds and nature.”

Dr Lim shared that, despite the valuable ecosystem services provided by migratory bird species, their population continues to decline and be threatened due primarily to hunting, illegal wildlife trade and destruction of their habitats and important ecosystems.

In the ASEAN region, 70 migratory species from a total of 510 have been listed as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable and near threatened, according to various global data sources.

The statement cites a study by Ding Li Yong, et al, an international team of conservationists and researchers, which says “at least 180 species’’ along the East Asia-Australasia Flyway are being hunted and trapped for food and illegally traded as pets.

“It is important to recognise the intricate link between migratory bird species and the well-being of the people,” added Dr Lim.

She noted that a study by the Asian Development Bank emphasises that more often, the total economic benefits derived from keeping the species alive in their natural habitats, in terms of their ecological functions and ecotourism contribution, among others, outweigh the monetary value that may be obtained from their direct use in illegal trade.

The ACB has been engaged in various conservation and education programmes in support of the ASEAN Member States (AMS).

As Dr Lim explained, the ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHP) Programme for one, strives to protect and manage the ecosystems that serve as important feeding and watering sites of migratory birds such as the Indawgyi Wildlife Sanctuary park and Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar; Tubbataha Reef Natural Park in the Philippines; and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore.

“The AHP Programme supports the capacity development of the park management – providing assistance in training and equipment that can aid in their patrolling and law enforcement – as well as providing alternative livelihood support for the communities around the AHPs.”

In addition, with the ASEAN region at the heart of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, the ASEAN Flyway Network (AFN) was established to facilitate cooperation among the member states, flyway site managers, and local, national, and international partners on the conservation of wetland habitats and migratory waterbirds, shared the executive director.

With the support from the government of Japan through the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund, studies have been conducted in designated and potential flyway sites to augment the data needed to scale up migratory bird species conservation measures in the region, she said.

“The essence of the World Migratory Bird Day celebration is to link and unite stakeholders to a common goal of conserving ecosystems and protecting migratory bird species. The ACB joins this important global event and remains fully committed to supporting the AMS and fostering regional and international collaboration to ensure the survival of migratory bird species.”

“Let us allow the birds to sing their songs, soar freely, and thrive without threats to their existence. Let us recognise and treasure our wonderful connection, and fortify our resolve to continue to protect and conserve biodiversity,” added Dr Lim.