Big boost for migratory birds in Central Asia – and people

Posted on February, 17 2024

New CMS initiative launched to safeguard birds and habitats on the Central Asian Flyway

Where better to launch a new initiative to conserve the extraordinary migratory birds and critically important habitats of the Central Asian Flyway than in the middle of Central Asia – at the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP14) to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in Uzbekistan.


Governments meeting in Samarkand at CMS COP14 established the much-needed Initiative for Central Asian Flyway as a platform for international cooperation to ensure a more coherent approach to protecting migratory birds and key habitats, including wetlands, by governments, civil society organizations and other stakeholders.


Long overshadowed by the larger East Asian-Australasian Flyway, the Central Asian Flyway is still huge – ranging from Siberia to South Asia across 30 countries. And it’s home to over 180 migratory waterbird species. These species depend on wetlands for breeding, stop-over and wintering sites – wetlands that form a survival chain that is as fragile as it is important.


The new initiative will certainly boost efforts to strengthen this chain. The governments agree that it will enhance the conservation of populations of migratory birds that are CMS-listed as well as migratory bird species and populations, which are not yet the focus of global conventions but require urgent conservation action across the Flyway. Critically, the initiative will also drive efforts to protect, restore and sustainably manage wetlands and other habitats by strengthening coordination and cooperation across the region, and taking into consideration the local communities – who depend on the health of the wetlands for their livelihoods.


“WWF welcomes the new initiative for the Central Asian Flyway and pledges our support for the conservation of its migratory birds and their habitats,” said Jamshed Iqbal Chaudhry, Senior Manager, Research & Conservation, WWF-Pakistan during his intervention on the topic at CMS COP14.


“The Initiative will not only serve as an important platform for collaboration among countries along the flyway but will also protect and restore wetlands and other habitats, which are stepping stone corridors for birds along their migratory routes and provide essential ecosystem services for people, including water, food and natural buffers against the impacts of climate change,” he added. 


Healthy wetlands are critical for people and nature, yet Asia has lost at least 45% of its wetlands since 1900, and over half of waterbird populations in Asia are now in decline. Climate change compounds these challenges, intensifying the threats to species and the risk of water-related natural disasters impacting societies and economies.


“No single country or organization can conserve all of Asia’s incredible – and increasingly threatened – migratory species, which is why this commitment to better cooperation along the Central Asian Flyway is such an important step,” said Vivian Fu, WWF Wetlands for Asian Flyways Lead, who participated at CMS COP14.


“It is imperative to engage in long-term partnerships involving governments, NGOs, researchers, corporate sectors, local communities, and other key stakeholders. Conserving migratory birds is not solely about the species themselves, it involves addressing a suite of environmental threats that jeopardize their survival,” added Fu. 


Investing in healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands – both inland and coastal – is central to tackling these environmental challenges, including adapting to climate change. By employing Nature-based Solutions to protect and restore healthy wetlands, we can help reverse the decline in migratory bird populations, support local communities, reduce disaster risk, and foster climate resilience.


An increasing number of studies demonstrate that robust wetland ecosystems — including mangroves, tidal flats, peatlands, marshlands, and rivers — deliver substantial ecosystem services. These range from carbon sequestration and water purification to securing water supplies and diminishing disaster risks such as flooding, storms, and tsunamis, in addition to mitigating climate change. Thoughtfully designed and effectively managed, even man-made wetlands like paddy fields, fishponds, and reservoirs can yield immense benefits for both nature and people.


“This is where WWF can play a key role – under our Wetlands for Asian Flyways initiative,” said Fu. “Together we can safeguard species, enhance the health of wetland habitats and ecological connectivity, improve livelihoods, and build climate resilience.”


Working on both Asian Flyways, WWF will collaborate with other stakeholders on three key pillars to:


·   conserve populations of wetland-dependent migratory birds;

·   protect, restore and effectively manage a network of healthy Flyway wetlands; and

·   promote and build community stewardship of wetlands and leverage NbS.


But we need to accelerate collaborative actions because we are running out of time. Wetlands continue to be lost at an alarming rate. And we have just six years left to meet the ambitious targets that the world signed up to in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.


To meet those targets, governments and partners must 'walk the talk' and take immediate actions to scale up concerted efforts and conservation impact. The new Initiative for Central Asian Flyway builds on the growing global momentum for action – and paves the way for more international and transboundary cooperation along the Flyway.


“Reflected by the slogan of the conference “Nature Knows No Borders”, CMS COP14 has inspired hope that different sectors can unite to conserve an ecologically functional network of wetlands in Asia for the benefit of migratory birds – and for ecological and human well-being,” said Fu.

demoiselle crane
© Harish Segar / WWF
Healthy wetlands are critical for migratory birds on flyways - and people
© Yifei ZHANG / WWF
Migratory birds are in decline across Asia's great Flyways
© Staffan Widstrand / Wild Wonders of China