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From the silk road to seabird flyways, reflections on marine conservation progress from CMS COP14

Seabirds might not be the first thing you think of when you hear about Uzbekistan – a land locked country in central Asia, famed for its linkages to the Silk Road. But when the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) met there last month, there were many discussions and some huge advances for marine conservation, including an agreement to put seabirds on its agenda.


CMS is a global treaty that addresses the conservation and effective management of migratory species and their habitats through international cooperation and coordinated conservation action. The Convention meets every three years, with the most recent gathering in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, last month. It brought together more than 1,700 people from 92 CMS parties, 16 UN Agencies and 240 participants from various conservation organisations to move forward action for species that know no borders.


This work of the Convention is critical because the global extinction risk of migratory species is rapidly increasing and coordinated conservation action is needed to address the threats they face. For migratory birds, the Flyways concept provides a framework for adequately conserving and ensuring the sustainable use of migratory birds throughout their ranges, combining species- and ecosystem-based approaches, along with promoting international cooperation and coordination. Recent progress for Flyway conservation was the official adoption of the Central Asian Flyway Initiative in Samarkand. This initiative will serve as an important collaborative platform to strengthen multi-stakeholder actions along the flyway from Siberia to the Maldives, including protecting and restoring habitats to benefit the >600 migratory bird species that use it.


The agreement to put seabirds on the agenda of the Convention represents a huge win, as they are one of the most threatened groups of birds. Currently, less than a quarter of seabird species are listed on the CMS Appendices (n=84). However, under the migratory criteria of the Convention, a further 232 species would meet the qualifications for consideration.


To represent the vast oceanic journeys of seabirds and to assist collaborative action, six Marine Flyways were recently identified from tracking data. These broad migratory movements of a wide range of seabird species across each ocean basin offers a framework for coordinated conservation action, akin to successful models seen in terrestrial and coastal Flyways, such as the Central Asian Flyway.


The six Marine Flyways delineated from seabird tracking data



The Marine Flyways and the need for more focused seabird conservation were discussed and promoted at a side event “Marine Flyways – advancing coordinated conservation action for threatened migratory seabirds”. The side event, led by BirdLife International and the Department for Conservation (New Zealand), included talks from Nina Mikander (Director of Global Policy at BirdLife International) who introduced the need for seabird conservation at CMS and applauded the newly agreed commitment from the Convention to work more on seabirds under the Flyways resolution.



The Marine Flyways side event panel at CMS COP14. (left: Dr Graeme Taylor, Dr Tammy Davies, Nina Mikander, Dr Lily Bentley; right: Tammy, Nina, Graeme and Lily)


Following this, three presentations delved into the key role of tracking and connectivity data in shaping a cohesive strategy for seabird conservation. Dr Tammy Davies (Marine Science Coordinator at BirdLife International) introduced the Marine Flyways and how the wealth of tracking data enabled the delineation of these routes at an ocean basin scale. Dr Graeme Taylor (Principal Science Advisor at New Zealand Department of Conservation) exemplified the need for more focused seabird conservation work using the example of Gadfly petrels – a highly migratory and threatened group of seabirds. Dr Lily Bentley (Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean project at the University of Queensland) provided an overview of connectivity data available on migratory species that can support policy and decision making.


The session concluded with the relevant policy linkages for seabirds and Marine Flyways. First Karen Baird (Threatened and Migratory Species Advisor at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme) covered the 5-year pacific islands regional marine species program. Prof David Johnson (Coordinator of the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative) then provided an overview of the linkages Marine Flyways can have to other international agreements.


The session was well attended and complemented the support voiced by New Zealand during the meeting to propose Gadfly petrels for inclusion on the CMS Appendices at the next CMS COP.


Cook’s Petrel, one of the 35 species of Gadfly petrels. Image by spatuletail from Shutterstock


Further wins for marine conservation during the week were a resolution on Synergies and Partnerships with other Multilateral Environmental Agreements, including strong text on the need for governments to urgently ratify the High Seas Treaty; a resolution urging parties not to engage with or support deep-sea mining until there is more scientific understanding on its environmental impacts; an updated resolution on climate change that urges parties to take measures to protect species from future threats; as well as the protection of additional marine species, including the Sand Tiger Shark, Bull Ray and Lusitanian Cownose Ray now listed on the Convention’s Appendices.


Over the next three years there is an opportunity to follow through on these commitments and BirdLife International looks forward to supporting the conservation of seabirds under CMS.