TechUN report: Migratory species face heightened risk of extinction

UN report: Migratory species face heightened risk of extinction

The steppe antelope - saiga - its population has been successfully saved.
The steppe antelope - saiga - its population has been successfully saved.
Images source: © Unsplash | Dasha Urvachova
3:44 AM EST, February 13, 2024

The report was showcased at a press conference that initiated the 14th UN Conference on Wildlife Conservation (CMS COP14) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Declining number of migratory animal species

Every year, billions of animals undertake migrations across lands, oceans, and skies. They cross national and continental borders, with some traveling thousands of miles searching for food and breeding grounds.

The report suggests that there has been a positive turn in the situation of some species listed in the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). However, a significant portion (44%) is witnessing a population decline. Furthermore, more than one in five species (22%) on the CMS list face the threat of extinction. This specifically applies to almost all fish (97%) on the list - including sharks, rays, and sturgeons; their population has suffered a 90% hit since the 1970s.

Similarly, the probability of extinction for migratory species not registered in the CMS has risen globally. At the worldwide level, 399 migratory species that are threatened or nearing extinction are currently unlisted on the CMS.

The two most substantial threats for all migratory species include overexploitation and habitat loss due to human activities. Three in four species on the CMS list are affected by habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Seven in ten species on this list are victims of overexploitation, be it deliberate harvesting or incidental captures, such as during fishing.

More than half (51%) of key biodiversity areas, which are considered vital for migratory animals on the CMS list, lack protection. Climate change, pollution, and invasive species also deeply affect migratory species.

The report is the first comprehensive assessment of migratory species. It provides a worldwide overview of the protection status and population trends of migratory animals, coupled with recent information on major threats they face and effective actions to preserve them.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, commented: "Today's report provides evidence that unsustainable human activities endanger the future of migratory species - creatures that not only signify environmental changes but also play a vital part in maintaining the functions and resilience of our planet's complex ecosystems. The global community has the opportunity to translate the latest scientific knowledge about the pressures facing migratory species into concrete conservation actions. Given the precarious situation of many of these animals, we cannot afford delays and must collaborate to turn recommendations into reality".

Migratory species carry out essential activities in global ecosystems and confer significant benefits like pollinating plants, transporting essential nutrients, feeding on pests, or helping with carbon dioxide storage.

Conservation scientists at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) compiled the report for the CMS. The document incorporates the most reliable species datasets from across the globe. It includes contributions from institutions like BirdLife International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

The report primarily zeroes in on 1,189 animal species recognized by the CMS parties as needing international protection and listed in the CMS. The document also covers the analysis of more than 3,000 additional migratory species not under the purview of the CMS.

Species included in the Convention are those dealing with extermination threats throughout or in a substantial part of their range or those that necessitate coordinated international actions to enhance their conservation status. Inclusion in the CMS ensures international protection for these species.

What can we do to aid migratory species?

According to the Congress participants, the following steps are necessary to aid migratory species:

  • Bolstering and expanding initiatives to address illegal and unsustainable harvesting of migratory species, as well as the incidental catch of non-target species;
  • Intensifying actions aimed at identifying, protecting, connecting, and efficiently managing vital habitats for migratory species;
  • Urgently addressing the species most threatened with extinction, inclusive of almost all fish species on the CMS list;
  • Step up efforts to combat climate change and light, noise, chemical, and plastic pollution; consider broadening CMS listings to include more endangered migratory species, necessitating attention at national and international levels.

An example of an effective initiative to protect migratory species was rescuing the endangered steppe antelope (saiga) population in Kazakhstan. Similarly, it was possible to reduce poacher activities in Cyprus by 91%, where migratory birds were frequently trapped using nets and snares.

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