Taej Mundkur, Wetlands International
The Yellow Sea-Bohai wetlands is well known as one the most important staging areas for millions of migratory waterbirds in the world and are used by waterbirds for feeding and resting during the both northward and southward migration along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. It is well known that waterbirds breeding in the Far East of Russia and Alaska, Mongolia and northeast and northern China migrate along the coastlines of the Yellow Sea – Bohai Sea region to spend the northern winter in the Yangtze River floodplains and southern China, while many others continue their journeys to south to Southeast (and South) Asia, Australia and New Zealand where they spend the non-breeding period. The coastal wetlands of the northern Yellow Sea also serve a very important purpose for shorebirds of the flyway, especially they are last stopover site for many species of shorebirds before they get to their arctic breeding grounds.
In mid-April 2016, a major coordinated survey of the waterbirds migrating north was undertaken at 11 National Nature Reserves, including all the six East Asian–Australasian Flyway Network Sites and Ramsar sites along the Yellow Sea-Bohai Sea region of China. The surveys were led by staff of the nature reserves and about 154 local and international professional and volunteers from institutions related to environmental protection, forestry, wetland reserves in the marine sector, wetland parks, universities, research institutes and NGOs. This major effort was organised with support of the Ministry of the Environmental Protection of China, jointly by the Wetlands International-China Office, China Wildlife Conservation Association, Northeast Institute of Geography and Agricultural Ecology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Beijing Biodiversity Conservation and Research Center.
The sites included were Liaoning Yalu River Estuary Wetland National Nature Reserve [EAAF043], Liaoning Snake Island National Nature Reserve, Liaoning Liaohe River Estuary National Nature Reserve, Tianjin Beidagang National Nature Reserve, Shandong Binzhou Beikedidao National Nature Reserve, Shandong Chang Island National Nature Reserve, Shandong Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve [EAAF006], Jiangsu Yancheng Zhenqin National Nature Reserve [EAAF005], Jiangsu Dafeng Milu National Nature Reserve, Shanghai Chongming Dongtan Bird National Nature Reserve [EAAF002], Shanghai Jiuduansha National Nature Reserve and Hebei Beidaihe National Wetland Park, and three unprotected wetlands, namely, Yingkou, Liaoning –Dalian, Jiangsu Rudong and Ningbo Hangzhou Bay. Eight sites have been found to meet the criteria of Wetlands of International Importance in accordance of the Ramsar Convention as they held over 20,000 waterbirds of the three unprotected areas, Rudong and Ningbo Hangzhou Bay also held around 20,000 waterbirds and would qualify as wetlands of international importance in accordance of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
The survey recorded a total of nearly 807,000 waterbirds of 119 species in 18 major sites along the Yellow Sea-Bohai region. The count was dominated by shorebirds, with about 657,000 recorded (84% of the total), followed by gulls and terns, swans, geese and ducks, herons, coot and gallinules and other species, mainly cormorant, grebes, ibis, spoonbill, stork, crane and pelican. Around 6% waterbirds were not identified to species level.
Several globally threatened species as per the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species were recorded, including three Critically Endangered species, namely Baer’s Pochard, Siberian Crane and Spoon-billed Sandpiper, six Endangered species: Oriental Stork, Black-faced Spoonbill, Red-crowned Crane, Far Eastern Curlew, Spotted Greenshank, and Great Knot, and seven Vulnerable species: Dalmatian Pelican, Chinese Egret, Swan Goose, Common Pochard, White-naped Crane, Relict Gull and Saunders’s Gull. In addition, 11 Near Threatened species were reported, Falcated Teal, Ferruginous Duck, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Red Knot, Red-necked Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Asian Dowitcher. Sixteen species recorded are also listed on the “Chinese National Important Protected Wildlife List” of 2000 produced by the State Forestry Administration.
The results of the 2016 Yellow Sea-Bohai Sea region survey highlight that wetlands of the region remain crucially important for migratory waterbirds during their northward migration, both on the Chinese coast as well as along the Korean Peninsula. However, the survey reinforces other recent studies that have shown that the region is facing problems including severe degradation and loss of wetlands due to rapid economic development across the region. This is resulting in further loss of migratory waterbird habitats that lead to loss of safe feeding and roosting areas for birds that are of crucial importance during their migration.
The organisers propose that such surveys need to be carried out regularly during different seasons to monitor the importance of these wetlands and to support their management.