COP14: world’s migratory species at risk of extinction

A recent UN report shows that the world’s migratory species are in decline, and that global extinction risk is increasing.

The Fourteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP14) was hosted by the Government of Uzbekistan in Samarkand from February 12 to February 17, 2024. There, the first State of the World’s Migratory Species report was launched by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), a UN biodiversity treaty. Its goal was to provide an international platform to bring governments and wildlife experts together to address the conservation needs of migratory species and their habitats.

Each year, billions of animals migrate, crossing national and continental borders, whether that be by land, by rivers or oceans, or through the skies. These migratory species are significant in maintaining the world’s ecosystems, providing vital benefits such as pollinating plants, transporting key nutrients, preying on pests, or helping store carbon.

The focus of the report was the 1,189 migratory species listed by CMS as needing international protection. Analyses are also linked to over three thousand additional non-CMS migratory species.

Results from the report found that nearly half of migratory species listed under CMS are showing population decline. 22% are even threatened with extinction, including 97% of CMS-listed fish. This extinction risk for migratory species is only growing, both for CMS species and 399 non-CMS species.

For the past 30 years, 70 CMS-listed migratory species have become more endangered. This includes the steppe eagle, the Egyptian vulture, and the wild camel. Only 14 listed species have an improved conservation status, including blue and humpback whales, the white-tailed sea eagle, and the black-faced spoonbill.

Of the migratory fish species listed under CMS, nearly all were found to be facing a high risk of extinction – this includes migratory sharks, rays, and sturgeons – with their populations declining by 90% since the 1970s.

The data collected on these migratory species was a collaborative effort with contributions from institutions including BirdLife International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Many of the threats facing these species are existing global threats that damage biodiversity and promote climate change. Two of the greatest threats to all migratory species were found to be overexploitation, such as unsustainable hunting and overfishing, and habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, from activities including agriculture, and expansion of transport and energy infrastructure.

“Today’s report sets out the evidence that unsustainable human activities are jeopardising the future of migratory species – creatures who not only act as indicators of environmental change but play an integral role in maintaining the function and resilience of our planet’s complex ecosystems,” said Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “The global community has an opportunity to translate this latest science of the pressures facing migratory species into concrete conservation action.”

The key priority in addressing these threats to these species is to take steps to protect vital locations. That includes locations that serve as their breeding, feeding and stopover sites. However, even though nearly ten thousand of the world’s Key Biodiversity Areas are important for CMS-listed migratory species, more than half (by area) are not designated as protected or conversed areas. 58% of monitored sites significant for CMS-listed species are even under threat due to human activities.

“This landmark report will help underpin much-needed policy actions to ensure that migratory species continue to thrive around the world,” Amy Fraenkel, CMS Executive Secretary said.

The report by the CMS was not all negative, however. Data suggests that population and species-wide recoveries are possible, as evident by examples of successful policy change and positive action across local and international levels. For example, coordinated local action in Cyprus has seen illegal bird netting reduced by 91%, and successful integrated conservation and restoration work in Kazakhstan has brought the Saiga Antelope back from the threat of extinction.

Further recommended actions include tackling illegal and unsustainable taking of migratory species, identifying and protecting important sites for migratory species, addressing species in most need of protection from extinction, efforts to tackle climate change (and addressing light, noise, chemical and plastic pollution), and expanding CMS listings to include more threatened migratory species.

Only time will tell if the platforming of such findings will be enough to promote global change to protect migratory species, but given the dire nature of such findings, time is something some species do not have much of.


Featured image: Liz Lauren via Pexels

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