At the Pacific Seabird Group banquet held at the Birch Aquarium, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, 17 February 2023, a Special Achievement Award was presented to three persons who contributed to the recovery of the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern: Dr Shuihua Chen of the Zhejiang Museum, Prof. Hsiao-wei Yuan of the National University of Taiwan, and Simba Chan of the Japan Bird Research Association/Wild Bird Society of Japan. This is the third time the Pacific Seabird Group presented a Special Achievement Award to Asian seabird researchers. Previous awardees were Prof Hiroshi Hasegawa of Toho University (2001) and Prof Yutaka Watanuki of Hokkaido University (2009).
Special Achievement Award presented to Mr. Simba Chan (left), Prof. Hsiao-wei Yuan (middle) and Dr Shuihua Chen (right) at the Pacific Seabird Group meeting © Simba Chan
The works of the three awardees were linked to the compilation of the International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Chinese Crested Tern (Sterna bernsteini) under the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS). After the publication of “Threatened Birds of Asia: The BirdLife International Red Data Book” in 2001, BirdLife International and the CMS have chosen three species for follow-up conservation actions: Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Black-faced Spoonbill and Chinese Crested Tern. These action plans were launched at the 4th Meeting of Partners of EAAFP (MOP4) held in Incheon, Ro Korea, and the International Black-faced Spoonbill Workshop in Fukuoka, Japan, in early 2010 respectively.
Simba Chan was the editor-in-chief of the Chinese Crested Tern Action Plan. When he started to work on the action plan in 2005 he contacted Shuihua Chen, who discovered the second breeding ground of Chinese Crested Tern at Jiushan Islands in Zhejiang Province in China in 2004, and Hsiao-wei Yuan who was a tern expert recommended by Dr Lucia Liu Severinghaus of Academia Sinica in Taiwan, who identified the Chinese Crested Tern from photos taken by wildlife documentarist Chieh-te Liang from Matsu in 2000. The trio met at Zhejiang Museum of Natural History in Hangzhou on May 2006 and that should be the start of the Chinese Crested Tern saga.
In the 2000s the biggest threat known to Chinese Crested Terns was illegal egg collection. The BirdLife/Hong Kong Bird Watching Society China Programme worked with bird conservation organizations in Zhejiang and Fujian on promotion of local awareness in seabird conservation. For this purpose an international seabird symposium was convened in Xiangshan in July 2010. Prof Daniel Roby of Oregan State University was invited and he made a presentation on social attraction project of Caspian Tern in northwest USA. The talk initiated the interest of breeding site restoration and workshops on the feasibility of using social attraction at Jiushan Islands in Zhejiang Province of China were held in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The first attempt of social attraction in 2013 was a late success (no terns were attracted to the site until the playback system was fixed in mid-July, then terns started to breed despite it was very late in the season) and monitoring on the island in 2014 and 2015 confirmed the method worked. Since then, Jiushan became the main breeding site of the Chinese Crested Tern and 20 or more chicks fledged every year (expect 2016).
The global population of Chinese Crested Tern in 2013 was less than 50 birds. In 2023 its number increased to around 200 birds.
This is not the end of the story, in late 2022, Simba Chan and Yat-tung Yu, Director of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, convened a virtual workshop for Korean and Chinese researchers on planning of restoration of breeding sites of Chinese Crested Terns in Korea and northern China (especially in the vicinity of Qingdao, where the last colony was recorded in 1937). Chan and Yu have also been working with colleagues from Indonesia and the USA on researching and protecting Chinese Crested Tern wintering sites in eastern Indonesia. We hope more people can support us and join the team.
The success of the Chinese Crested Tern conservation was a result of team work, the three awardees are representing those who work hard in the field in mainland China, Taiwan and other countries. The secret of the success was a combination of good planning (the action plan and beyond), a good and dedicated team, and the spirit of international cooperation.
Recently the EAAFP Black-faced Spoonbill Working Group worked with the IUCN Stork, Spoonbill, and Ibis Specialist Group on a paper (link) on the success of conservation of the once (prior to 2000) critically endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. The essence of success was the same as we listed above. And we believe this is also a lesson to learn for many other migratory species and species groups in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.
Read also: How Plastic Birds Are Bringing Crested Terns Back From the Brink (published on 2015, available at link)