Asian Flyways | WWF
© Yifei ZHANG / WWF

Asian Flyways

Asian Flyways: A true wonder of Nature

Every year, as autumn falls in the northern hemisphere, millions of birds undertake an arduous journey of over 13,000 km, from breeding grounds as far north as the Arctic Circle to overwintering grounds as far south as Australia and New Zealand, and then return the next year. This transcontinental annual migration along flight path, or flyways, that have been used for millennia are one of Nature’s most important and wondrous ecological and evolutionary phenomenon, on par with others such as the wildebeest migration in East Africa and the oceanic migrations of large whales. It is no wonder that they have captured the hearts of people around the world, and connects deeply with cultural and spiritual values.

© Martin Harvey / WWF

Healthy flyway wetlands ARE OUR life support systems

Along with sustaining migratory birds, wetlands along Asia's great flyways are also essential for human wellbeing and survival, inclusive economic growth, and climate mitigation and adaptation. They protect shorelines, help to make cities and settlements safe and resilient from floods, and are important natural carbon stores. Thus, protecting wetlands to stop the rapid decline in migratory bird populations will also increase resilience for communities and cities.

© Yuri Bersenev / WWF Russia

Marvellous migratory birds

Bird enthusiasts and naturalists across the world follow the migrations, and flock to Asian wetlands to watch, monitor, and appreciate this spectacle. Some of the iconic birds include several species of cranes and storks that are etched into Asian culture and spiritual beliefs, and much smaller birds such as the various species of curlews, knots, sandpipers, and ducks that undertake a task that seems amazingly out of proportion to their size. For instance, the Red Knot, a small bird with a wingspan of just about 20 inches travels southwards from the Arctic Circle to Australia over the Pacific, flying for up to a week without stopping to rest or feed, only to repeat this feat in the spring as it returns to its northern breeding grounds.

© Gavin Maxwell / WWF

Are we witness to the demise of the flyways?

Unfortunately, the persistence of migrations and the ecological functionality of the Asia flyways are in great and imminent danger. The stop-over habitats, breeding grounds and the over-wintering wetlands the migrating birds rely on are being rapidly drained and filled for urban, industrial, and agricultural uses, preventing the birds from reaching their eventual destinations. We are already witnessing the impacts; over 60% of the waterbird populations in Asia are now showing signs of declining or have gone extinct in just over two decades. Many of the bird species are listed as threatened and endangered. Thus, conservation actions to secure, restore, and manage wetlands are urgently needed, along with population recovery plans for several bird species that are in severe decline.

© WWF MWIOPO / Xavier Vincke

The global climate crisis

The global climate crisis is now affecting both coastal and inland wetlands. Coastal wetlands are vulnerable to sea level rise and will be susceptible to storm surges and buffeting by the more frequent and stronger storms manifested due to climate change, changing the ecological conditions of important breeding, staging and over-wintering areas. The climate crisis will also make human communities and infrastructure more vulnerable as coastal erosion, wave surges, and floods batter coasts. Coastal wetlands are natural barriers to the storms and wave surges and protect coasts and coastal communities. Under natural succession there will be opportunities for wetlands to migrate inland with sea level rise and maintain a dynamic buffer, if the immediate inland areas are not developed and converted to infrastructure and settled. Thus, climate adaptive, forward-looking land-use planning is needed to prevent conversion of coastal habitats.

© Harish Segar / WWF

Why do we need an Asian Flyway Initiative?

There are several international and national stakeholders and other actors that focus on birds and bird migrations or on water-related issues. But the flyways are about both; the birds require the wetlands as stepping stone corridors and people need the ecosystem services from the wetlands for survival. Linking these two areas of action can provide a stronger argument and tangible indicators of conservation success. This Asian Flyway Initiative is intended to play this role of coordinating among the various organizations and stakeholders to ensure that the avian migratory flyways are conserved as landscapes, with ecologically connected stepping-stone corridors that sustains the long-distance seasonal bird migrations, and the wetlands are managed for nature and people.

Outcomes and Impacts

Our ​Vision

Ecologically connected networks of wetlands contributing to functional flyways by supporting stable migratory bird populations, conserve representative wetland biodiversity and ecological communities, support the well-being of half the world’s population by providing ecosystem services, and building climate resilience for ecological and socio-economic sustainability of communities and countries.

Our Goal

By 2030, ecologically functional networks of wetlands are protected, restored as necessary, and effectively managed with community stewardship to stabilize or reverse the decline of migratory bird populations that use the flyways, and conserve wetland health for ecological and human well-being.

The initiative will address the strategic priorities and support achievement of the goal through the following outcomes that will be measured by the respective indicators:

Outcome 1. By 2030, ecologically connected networks of wetlands efficaciously managed to ensure functionality of the Asian flyways.

Outcome 2. By 2030, migratory bird populations are stable or increasing in both flyways.

Outcome 3. By 2030, millions of bird watchers, mobilized as citizen scientists, monitor bird populations and are advocates supporting wetland conservation.

Our Actions

Given the widespread loss of wetlands across Asia and the Pacific region, and consequent population declines of many bird species, the actions proposed under this Initiative is timely, strategic, and necessary. As the world’s largest conservation NGO with a wide network, global and regional reach, in-house expertise, and credibility, WWF is in a good position to deliver results, but will do so by partnership building. Thus, the initiative will work with partners to:
Iconic birds of the Asian Flyways