Highlights from the BirdLife International World Congress, Ottawa, June 19-22, 2013

July 16, 2013 — Along with conservationists from 122 countries, ICFC attended the BirdLife International (BLI) World Congress in Ottawa recently. Held every five years, the event allows BLI partners (ICFC is not a partner, but some of our field partners are) and other participants an opportunity to compare notes and learn from each other. BLI has a Secretariat in Cambridge, UK, regional offices, and affiliated national partner organizations which work autonomously and collaborate on joint programs including "Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas" (IBAs) and flyway conservation.

ICFC met with the Argentinean groups Asociación Ambiente Sur and Aves Argentinas to discuss the hooded grebe project. We also met with the organization Island Conservation to discuss their work in freeing oceanic islands of the invasive species that threaten bird species (and, in some cases, cause economic hardship).

A few (subjective) highlights from the Congress:

  • BLI released the third edition of their State of the World's Birds publication. This excellent assessment examines: (1) the current status of bird populations (overall, we are losing ground); (2) pressures on bird species; and (3) the response. There are now 1,313 globally threatened bird species (roughly one species in eight). Leading threats are agriculture, logging, invasive species, hunting/trapping, and climate change.
  • Invasive species (alien species that cause ecological disruption) threaten 518 bird species. Much progress has been made in techniques to control or eradicate invasives. About 800 oceanic islands have been freed from invasive species, leading to rapid recovery of threatened species and ecosystems. About 2000 oceanic islands remain to be tackled.
  • In a fascinating presentation, Stephen Rumsey of Permian Global (a company that does large-scale forest carbon projects) argued that forest restoration and natural regeneration of degraded forests provides a cheap way to bring atmospheric CO2 down to safe levels. He explained how voluntary (and eventually official) forest carbon credit markets, along with moving to a low carbon emission economy, could bring this about. Climate change driven by greenhouse gas emissions is a huge threat to biodiversity (and human wellbeing).
  • Fisheries bycatch of seabirds threatens 17 of 22 albatross species along with other seabirds and marine life, but improvements in fishing gear and fishing methods are reducing this toll.
  • Remember the catastrophic draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq by Saddam Hussein? This appeared to devastate this large ecosystem and it displaced the Marsh Arabs who lived there. We heard from an Iraqi BLI delegate who spear-headed efforts to bring the Marshes back (though some said this was impossible) by restoring water flow. Result: huge success! Much of the Marshes have recovered and some people have returned and resumed their traditional way of life.
  • Other progress: Vulture species in India were being imperiled by a livestock veterinary drug; this was eventually banned and a vulture-safe replacement drug is now in use. And there's a "bird-friendly beef" movement that promotes grazing cattle on natural grasslands.
  • Birding and conservation interest is growing in China, and the Congress heard from a shy but articulate and passionate 12-yr-old Chinese birder — now a celebrity — who spoke of her efforts to develop an interest in birds and nature among other children and the public in general.
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