Biodiversity in Motion
Migratory Species and
their Value to
Biodiversity: The living foundation of sustainable development
The variety of life on Earth – biodiversity – is essential for human well-being. It is the living foundation of sustainable development. Biodiversity provides goods and services that underpin directly and indirectly human development in its many facets. It is the biological basis for ecosystem structure and function – contributing, for example, to water purity, soil fertility and climate stablility.
The biological resources that make up biodiversity provide products such as food, medicines and materials that humans rely on as the basis for everyday life and economic development. Biodiversity is also at the heart of many cultural values throughout the world.
Biodiversity has various components – genes, species and habitats – which, together, make up Earth’s precious ecosystems. Of the world’s approximately 1.5 million described animal species, an estimated 8-10,000 have lifecycles that are characterized by periodic migration from one environment to another.
Biodiversity has various components
– genes, species and habitats – which, together, make up Earth’s precious
ecosystems. Of the world’s approximately 1.5 million described animal species,
an estimated 8-10,000 have lifecycles that are characterized by periodic
migration from one environment to another.
The importance of migratory species
Animal migration represents one of nature’s most awe-inspiring processes, often providing a marvellous spectacle in both the extent and numbers of animals involved. Many animals migrate in order to find a suitable location to breed and raise their young, and to find favourable areas in which to feed at different times of the year. In some cases, this means travelling great distances. For example, Northern right whales and Arctic terns journey many thousands of kilometres between their summer and winter locations. Some albatrosses are known to fly over the open sea for up to two years without returning to land.
Migratory species are, however, not just beautiful to look at. They also play key roles in ecosystem structure and function, and in human economic and cultural activities. For example, migratory birds, as well as mammals, such as bats, play key roles in maintaining our food supply by acting as pollinators and seed distributors, as well as natural pest control agents. Without their valuable services, the earth’s forests and agricultural systems would be less productive.
Migratory species have been and continue to be used in countless economic activities. Direct usage, such as commercial and recreational hunting and fishing, sustainable turtle egg collection and caviar production contributes to local, national and global economies. Indirect uses, such as eco-tourism – which includes bird-watching and whale-watching – are also highly profitable. So important are the migratory species on which these industries depend that unsustainable use can put communities or even entire industries at risk of economic collapse.
Migratory species also play a strong role in many cultures. Consider, for example, the Siberian crane, revered in parts of Russia and China, and even depicted in paintings of the ancient Egyptians – a testimony to its once vast distribution. Today, this magnificent bird is on the brink of extinction over much of its former range. Interestingly, the same animal may take on different significance for different cultures within its migratory range. For example, the White stork is considered holy in Africa, while in parts of Europe this spectacular bird is a harbinger of newborn children.
Migratory species: global travellers without passports
Migratory terrestrial and marine mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects are essentially global travellers. While their biological requirement to seek different habitats ensures their survival, it also makes migratory animals particularly vulnerable to a wide range of threats. They are, on average, more at risk of becoming endangered than non?migratory species. Their movement across geopolitical boundaries complicates matters further, as it subjects them to different standards of implementation of environmental policies in each country through which they pass. Transboundary cooperation is therefore essential for the conservation of these “flagship” species.
In an ever?changing world, human pressure is highly pronounced on many of the habitats on which migratory species depend, and often on the animals themselves. Unsustainable hunting and fishing practices, and incidental capture in fisheries all take a heavy toll. Barriers to migration such as dams, fences, power lines and wind farms disrupt migratory patterns and, in many cases, result in significant mortality. As a result, many migratory species that were once common are becoming increasingly rare and some are threatened with extinction.
CMS: Global Action for Migratory Animals
The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) works globally through its 80 Contracting Parties, other participating States and partner organisations to tailor conservation and sustainable use measures to the needs of the world’s most threatened migratory species. Its aim is to ensure a favourable conservation status – an essential precondition for sustainable use – for the hundreds of migratory species listed in the Convention’s two appendices. It also works with other intergovernmental instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, as well as such international organisations as BirdLife International, IUCN - the World Conservation Union, and Wetlands International. Its institutional linkage to the United Nations Environment Programme assures complementarity in their respective programmes of activity.
Beyond Aesthetics: Basic CMS Operational Tools for Sustainable Use
CMS’s three operational tools integrate the basic components of sustainable development: economic development, social development and environmental protection.
Concerted actions for endangered migratory species are CMS’ first operational
tool. Such actions are targeted to maintain or enhance wild populations
and to strictly protect migratory species threatened with extinction. Key
Since 1990, a dozen international agreements have been concluded under the CMS umbrella: for migratory birds (such as waterbirds and seabirds), seals, cetaceans (such as whales, dolphins and porpoises) and marine turtles. Others are in various stages of development.
Through its third operational tool, CMS promotes important co-operative conservation and research projects on migratory species. These projects help to catalyse conservation actions, fill gaps in knowledge and provide a better scientific foundation for conservation action.
Contributing to Poverty Eradication and Building Sustainable Economies: Migratory Species Conservation and Sustainable Use
Poverty eradication efforts can, and should, go hand-in-hand with efforts to reverse the decline of migratory species. Poverty has insidious direct and indirect impacts on migratory species through habitat loss and over-exploitation. Members of impoverished communities may resort to unsustainable, and sometimes illegal, practices of hunting, fishing and trade in order to ensure their short-term survival.
For example, poaching and illegal trade in the horns of Saiga antelope, as well as uncontrolled hunting, have contributed to its recent decline. Economic hardship, impoverishment and poor land use planning are root causes that need to be addressed to conserve and sustainably use this once abundant antelope. CMS is developing an agreement among the Range States to reverse the situation and try to restore the vast herds of the Saiga to the Central Asian steppe.
The dramatic decline of Pacific Leatherback turtles over the past two decades – amounting to a loss of 95% of the female nesting population – can certainly be attributed, in part, to over-harvesting of eggs by local communities that have limited alternatives for sustenance. CMS is working with countries around the world to put in place management systems that aim to avert the inevitable consequences of excessive exploitation of turtle populations.
The Convention complements regional initiatives for economic development and poverty eradication. CMS interventions are intended to bring longer-term benefits for indigenous peoples and local communities that are inextricably linked to the natural resource base. As a grassroots convention, CMS promotes programmes that provide for alternative livelihoods, while reducing short-term pressures on wildlife populations.
Through its many activities focussed on the African continent, CMS is also helping to build a bridge of cooperation between developed and developing countries. These activities include the re-establishment of viable populations of antelopes and gazelles in the Sahelo-Saharan region; the conservation of marine turtles in both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coastal areas; and the sustainable use of migratory waterbirds and their habitats.
CMS and its instruments contribute to the attainment of sustainable
use goals by putting in place co-ordinated management tools. For example,
many of CMS’ instruments seek to harmonise national hunting legislation
to ensure coherence in their application across a species’ migratory range.
Guidelines may be developed to assist countries in sustainable use practices.
For example, the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) has produced
sustainable harvesting guidelines for migratory waterbirds, as well as
guidelines for eco-tourism at wetlands. The European Bats Agreement
(EUROBATS) is developing bat-friendly forestry practices to ensure that
the valuable ecosystem services provided by bats continue unabated.
Yet another CMS Agreement, concerning cetaceans of the Black Sea and Mediterranean
Sea (ACCOBAMS), encourages whale-watching practices that benefit whales
and help to sustain a flourishing tourism industry.
Changing Unsustainable Patterns of Consumption and Production that Impact Migratory Species: By-catch and Migratory Species
It is widely recognised that the majority of the world’s marine fisheries are unsustainably exploited. One of the major problems facing marine ecosystems is fisheries by-catch, whereby vast numbers of non-target species, including migratory animals, are captured incidentally and discarded. By-catch in various types of fishing gear – such as gill nets, trawls and long-lines – threatens populations of small cetaceans, marine turtles and seabirds, such as albatrosses and petrels. All of these are highly migratory. Several CMS Agreements specifically aim to address this problem through activities targeted to reduce or avoid by-catch.
Conserving the Natural Resource Base Helps Migratory Species and Strengthens Socio-economic Development: Climate Change and Migratory Species
Environment and development decisions taken with regard to water resources, oceans, agriculture, desertification, mountains, tourism, forests and mining – all thematic areas that the WSSD will address – may directly or indirectly affect migratory species. Climate change is an emerging issue not only in terms of human well-being, but also for the migratory species that contribute to our lives in so many ways.
Climate change is likely to affect migratory species through four main
Migrants would benefit from management measures that ensure that breeding, staging and wintering areas provide resources that can be exploited at critical times. These ought to complement realistic species exploitation policies that build a precautionary approach into management decision-making. Such measures may help those migratory species that are able adapt to climate change, enabling them to maintain their important roles in the ecosystems and economies of the world.
To maximise the use of increasingly scarce financial resources and technical
expertise, States need to work collaboratively to conserve and sustainably
use shared biological resources, such as migratory species. Cooperation
across the entire range of these species ensures that funds for conservation
are used more efficiently, and encourages the implementation of consistent
policies from one Range State to the next. The Convention on Migratory
Species provides the international legal framework through which approximately
100 States already cooperate to secure lasting benefits from the valuable
resources that migratory species represent.