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Nearly half of the world’s migratory species are in decline, UN report warns



A recent United Nations “State of the World’s Migratory Species” report revealed a startling revelation: nearly half of the globe’s migratory species are facing a decline.

From melodic songbirds to majestic sea turtles, whales, and sharks, these nomadic creatures, navigating diverse environments with the shifting seasons, find themselves at risk due to threats like habitat loss, illegal hunting and fishing, pollution, and the looming impact of climate change.

Mark Hebblewhite, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Montana, emphasized the gravity of this revelation, stating, “This report showed us for the first time, in a very sobering way, that across the globe, over half the species that migrate are in decline. And that’s largely because of human activities.” He highlighted the crucial role migration plays in bolstering animal populations; warning that losing migration would result in a significant reduction in animal numbers.

The report indicates that around 44% of migratory species worldwide are witnessing a decline in population, with over 20% facing the looming threat of extinction. The U.N.’s definition of migratory species encompasses wild animals whose entire population, or specific geographical segments, consistently traverse one or more national jurisdictional boundaries during various stages of their lifecycles.

“They regularly travel, sometimes thousands of miles, to reach these places. They face enormous challenges and threats along the way as well at their destinations where they breed or feed,” Amy Fraenkel, executive secretary for the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) told UN News.

The report relied on existing data, including information from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, which tracks whether a species is endangered.

Among the 1,189 species scrutinized in the report, migratory fish confront the gravest peril, with a staggering 97% of these species teetering on the brink of extinction. The report emphasizes the disproportionately dire situation in aquatic ecosystems, attributing the alarming population decline to human activity and climate change. Factors such as overexploitation, including illegal hunting and fishing, along with habitat loss, are identified as primary contributors to this worrisome trend.

Migratory species encounter more problems,” Hebblewhite said. “And we as a species, humans, are generally the reason for these problems.”

“We implement various interventions such as the erection of fences, construction of roads, installation of barriers, alterations in land use, wetland drainage, and agricultural activities that modify migratory stopover sites for birds,” explained Hebblewhite.

Climate Change: Disrupting Migration Routes and Timings through Altered Seasonal Conditions

Regarding climate change, the report underscores the imperative for heightened global initiatives to mitigate chemical, plastic, light, and noise pollution, aiming to alleviate human impacts on the world’s ecosystems.

The expansion of agriculture and urbanization has resulted in “the loss or reduction of critical habitats, including stopover sites, or the deterioration of breeding and foraging habitats,” as stated by Graeme Taylor, CMS Science Councilor for New Zealand. According to the report, migratory species in Asia face the highest level of threat, with North America and Africa following closely in experiencing significant declines.

Conversely, migratory species in Europe, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean have shown population increases.

Is the world doing enough?

Participants in the U.N. meeting plan to evaluate proposals for conservation measures and whether to formally list several new species of concern.

During the meeting, representatives from eight South American governments are anticipated to collaboratively suggest the inclusion of two diminishing species of Amazon catfish on the list of migratory species of concern under the U.N. treaty, as mentioned by her.

The Amazon River basin stands as the world’s largest freshwater system. “Preserving the habitat is crucial for the thriving of catfish — if the Amazon remains undisturbed, they will flourish,” noted Lieberman.

In 2022, at the U.N. Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, Canada, governments pledged to safeguard 30% of the planet’s land and water resources for conservation. The report identifies a total of 4,508 species considered migratory, noting that 399 of these species, not covered in the findings, “merit greater attention.” Urgent action is recommended in the report to preserve the species that are most threatened — this means protecting not only the at-risk animal groups but also their migratory sites.

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