The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Wetlands International have launched the Waterbird Populations Portal (WPP), an online interactive platform containing the most recent data on the status and distribution of the world’s waterbird populations, WAM reports.
EAD provided financial support for the development of the portal, which was launched at a global webinar organized by Wetlands International in partnership with the agency.
The discussion featured a leading international panel including representatives from the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on Migratory Species, the Convention on Biological Diversity, African Eurasian Migratory Bird Agreement, East Asian – Australasian Flyway Site Network, West/Central Asian Flyway Site Network, and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. They represent the significant users of the new portal.
Dr. Salim Javed, Acting Director of the Terrestrial Biodiversity Division of EAD, was also part of the panel.
With over 870 waterbird species, the newly launched Waterbird Populations Portal will provide the latest population size estimates and trends of over 2,500 populations. These range from the Greater Flamingos, which are regularly seen in the coastal and inland wetlands of the UAE, and the Sarus Crane that stands at over 1.5m tall, making it the tallest flying bird inhabiting wetlands and rice fields in South East Asia and Australia.
It also includes other waterbirds species from Sandpipers to Plovers, including the Crab Plover, which is currently breeding on two of Abu Dhabi’s offshore islands. Conservation of all these species requires easily accessible information on their status and trends to help governments and people take action.
“The new portal makes access of key waterbird information much easier for management authorities, such as EAD, and will certainly help us to prioritize sites for consideration as new Ramsar Sites,” stated Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, EAD Secretary-General.
The portal will be helpful for users, ranging from governments to scientists and conservationists, in the UAE and across the globe, she added.
Ahmed Al Hashmi, Acting Executive Director, Terrestrial & Marine Biodiversity Sector of EAD, who also participated in the launch, urged governments, NGOs and experts worldwide to provide their feedback to confirm how the portal practically supports their work and suggestions for improvements in the future.
While speaking as a panelist, Dr. Javed said, ‘‘Interactive maps and the latest 1% threshold of each population will allow us to identify and prioritize started mainly sites for local-level planning and inclusion within protected area networks, as well as the declaration of sites as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
“EAD also coordinates the International Waterbird Census (IWC) in the UAE, a long-standing citizen science initiative that allows volunteers to visit important wetlands across the UAE and collect data on waterbirds. Information from a dedicated group of volunteers allows collection of useful data on waterbirds, which feeds into the estimation of waterbird populations,’’ elaborated Dr. Javed.
The WPP links 160 threatened waterbird species, as per the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It will also support the development and actions of the Ramsar Convention, the Convention on Migratory Species, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as major regional/flyway initiatives.
The new portal replaces the Waterbird Population Estimates Portal that was launched at the Ramsar Conference in 2012 and was intensively used by governments, NGOs, researchers, and others worldwide over the last decade.
What are Waterbirds?
The Ramsar Convention defines ‘waterfowl’ as species of birds that are “ecologically dependent upon wetlands” and has defined “waterbird” as being synonymous with “waterfowl” for the purposes of the application of the Convention, WPP explains.
This approach excludes only a minority of wetland bird populations. Conversely, the inclusion of whole families resulted in the waterfowl list containing a few non-wetland species, such as some seabirds and stone curlews. These rather minor anomalies were thought to be outweighed by the convenience of a whole-taxon approach to the definition of ‘waterfowl’ and, in particular, considering the complications that would arise from applying the definition rigidly to every species.