25 August 2011

Africa: New 'Cool Tools' for Waterbird and Wetland Conservation

An innovative tool for tracking the migratory patterns of waterbirds has won first prize in an ESRI International Conservation Mapping Competition. The "Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool" (CSN Tool) and the supporting "Flyaway Training Kit" (FTK) are some of the products of the Wings over Wetland (WOW) project, the largest flyway scale waterbirds conservation initiative ever attempted, covering the 118 countries included in the range of the African-Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement (AEWA).

The WOW project is funded by the GEF (Global Environment Facility), The German Government and several other donors, and it is implemented by UNEP as a joint effort by leading global conservation organizations and partners such as Wetlands International, BirdLife International, the AEWA, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and UNEP-WCMC (World Conservation Monitoring Centre) and UNOPS.

An estimated 50 billion migratory birds make phenomenal annual journeys across borders and regions of the world, covering thousands of kilometers. For this reason, they are a link between countries and ecosystems, making them one of the world's great wonders. Because of their use of several habitats as stopover sites during migration, the health of migratory birds is an important indicator of the state of our environment.

Migratory birds are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change; they often feel the effects of the changing environment first, before many other animal species. The critical habitats that migratory birds need to complete their annual migrations are disappearing due to human activity such as land reclamation for agricultural use, rapid urbanization and population growth. This poses a great risk to migratory birds, sometimes preventing them from completing their long journeys.

The CSN Tool will be instrumental to improve our understanding of waterbirds migration, and it will promote their conservation through better management and more informed decision making at the flyways scale. This will also help combat the adverse effects of climate change by protecting the critical wetlands habitats used by water birds. These habitats are also important for the livelihoods of millions of people in rural communities living around those wetlands.

Selected as one of the best web-based conservation mapping tools, from over 100 entries, the CSN Tool is being increasingly featured in birding and conservation magazines and winning global awards since its launch in 2010. This online conservation tool features 294 species of waterbirds and covers all the known important sites upon which they depend (n.b. access is free, on the WOW website).

Users can now gain quick one-stop access to all existing relevant information about migratory waterbirds and their critical migration sites, used for rest and refuel during their journey, and this is all greatly simplified through a user-friendly interface. The improved access to existing information can now significantly help conservation efforts, but will also facilitate the implementation of international environment agreements, such as the AEWA and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. It is a useful resource for a range of different users from site managers to national authorities and international organizations.

The supporting WOW "Flyaway Training Kit", also launched in 2010, is a 560-pages state-of-the-art training package developed to build professional capacity to plan, implement, monitor and engage in effective flyway-scale conservation of migratory waterbirds and wetland habitats in the entire AEWA region.

It is the result of collaborative efforts of the WOW partners and over 40 training institutes across the AEWA region. Three modules are included in the FTK, focusing on understanding, applying and communicating the flyway conservation concept. The FTK covers the topic of flyway conservation with example-rich text, case studies, ready-to-use PowerPoint presentations, practical exercises and workshop programmes. This is all available for free download online in the WOW website, and is available in English, French, Arabic and Russian languages.

The WOW project has now turned into a long-term "WOW partnership" between some of the same group of conservation organisations, and the joint annual celebration of the World Migratory Bird Day is just an example of the continued efforts towards highlighting the negative effects of human activities on migratory birds, their habitats and the planet's natural environment.

International environmental governance for the conservation and sustainable use of global common resources is a vital issue that is at the core of the UNEP mandate. Migratory birds require protection across all borders. They are a unique natural wonders shared by all mankind, and their conservation is the responsibility of all countries and organizations of the world.

For more information, direct access to all the WOW flyways tools described in this article, and contacts, please visit: www.wingsoverwetlands.org

The Critical Site Network tool will improve our understanding of waterbirds migration.

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