New Hope for China’s Endangered Migratory Birds

This spring, millions of migratory birds are returning to China’s coastal wetlands, crucial stopover points in their Herculean journey to the far North, where they will find mates and breed. But they are facing daunting challenges: The crucial wetlands that provide food and rest for the birds have been shrinking rapidly—more than 60 percent since the 1950s—as a result of China’s industrial development and agriculture, and the birds’ numbers have been plummeting. As many as 27 species of waterbirds that frequent the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, along the coast of the Yellow Sea, are now threatened with extinction.

But recently there is some good news for the birds: in an important step towards the future protection of their crucial feeding grounds, China has added 14 key coastal sites along the Yellow Sea to a tentative list of sites to be considered for World Heritage status. If the sites are formally nominated and then named as UNESCO sites, the critically threatened birds will have a much better chance of survival.

The Paulson Institute’s Coastal Wetlands Blueprint Project, completed last year, was an important factor in the decision to include the coastal wetlands in the tentative World Heritage list, as the blueprint provided the first-ever comprehensive report on the wetlands’ biodiversity and critical status. The blueprint project listed many of the 14 sites on the tentative World Heritage list as key—but unprotected—habitats for migratory waterbirds. Those sites include the Rudong and Lianyungang mudflats of Jiangsu Province, the Luannan wetland in Hebei province, and the Yalujiang Estuary in Liaoning province.

China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, which decides on World Heritage nomination in China, worked with technical assistance from Shanshui, a Chinese conservation NGO, to form the list of 14 wetlands. The East Asia Australasia Flyway Partnership has also been working to achieve this milestone internationally and in China, together with, among many others, IUCNBirdLife International, and Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF).