Dr. Jacques Trouvilliez, Executive Secretary, Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA
27 Jan 2023
This year’s World Wetlands Day theme “It’s time for wetland restoration” echoes the same spirit of urgency and action which led to the historic adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) by 196 countries in December 2022.
The GBF recognizes the importance of protecting and restoring wetlands – amongst other places, in Target 2, which calls on countries to “ensure that by 2030 at least 30 percent of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal marine ecosystems are under effective restoration.”
What fewer people know is that this year’s World Wetlands Day theme and call to action for countries to restore wetlands and other important habitats in the GBF is also a key objective of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) and an essential ingredient of effective Flyway Conservation.
Restoring lost or degraded wetlands is absolutely crucial for waterbird conservation as it is an important means of creating and restoring the connectivity between the habitats migratory waterbirds need to survive all along their flyway.
A flyway is in many ways like a chain, made of many links, where each link in the chain represents an important wetland. If one of the links breaks, the whole chain breaks. The loss or degradation of one or more important wetlands within the network can directly lead to a decline in waterbird populations. In fact, the loss of key wetlands in one part of the flyway can have devastating effects in other parts and across the entire flyway and even affect the conservation status of species. Hence identifying, managing, protecting and restoring these important sites and habitats are all critically important.
That is the reason why the legal document behind the AEWA treaty, the so-called AEWA Agreement text calls on countries to not only identify, manage and protect sites and habitats for migratory waterbirds occurring within their territory but also places an emphasis on the importance of restoring lost or degraded habitats. Our theme for the 8th Session of the Meeting of Parties held in Budapest in September 2022, was “Strengthening Flyway Conservation in a Changing World” to emphasize the need for adequate resources and systems for conserving and restoring the network of wetlands, taking into account the ever-changing issues faced.
In addition, the provisions of the treaty generally call upon countries to rehabilitate and restore sites, calling on countries to “endeavour to rehabilitate and restore areas which were previously important for populations listed under AEWA.” These include areas that suffer degradation as a result of the impacts of climate change, hydrological change, agriculture, spread of aquatic invasive non-native species, natural succession, uncontrolled fires, unsustainable use, eutrophication and pollution.
Unfortunately, the continued decline of wetlands across the African-Eurasian flyway indicates that the implementation of the requirement to rehabilitate and restore wetlands in the Agreement’s Action Plan has so far been inadequate.
Nevertheless, I would like to mention an example where this restoration work is already successfully happening: The Finnish Wildlife Agency has launched the Sotka Project to restore 43 breeding habitats for waterbirds with local landowners and with the support of hunting associations from Denmark, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Italy, demonstrating the benefit of flyway level funding for this kind of restoration work. In addition, it is important to recognize that wetlands can also enhance the livelihoods of people living nearby these wetlands as is being demonstrated by the RESSOURCE Project in their effort to restore water lilies in Senegal - a flagship project in Africa trying to reconcile local development and biodiversity conservation being led by the FAO in collaboration with AEWA.
As these two examples show – it is clearly time for wetland restoration and AEWA is eager to work closely with Ramsar and its Parties and other stakeholders to do all we can to stimulate and accelerate national and international wetland restoration efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and help restore the ecological integrity, connectivity, and functioning of the network of important sites in the African-Eurasian Flyway.
Wetland restoration is a good way to maintain and restore suitable habitats for waterbirds and will remain a top priority for international waterbird conservation across Africa and Eurasia in the years and decades to come.
The Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) is an inter-governmental treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory waterbirds that migrate along the African-Eurasian Flyway. The Agreement covers 255 species of birds ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle. 82 countries and the European Union have already signed the environmental treaty, which has a geographic range covering 119 countries across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago.