Entire world population of Asian Dowitcher at risk from Yellow Sea development


Conservationists are concerned that a shorebird hot-spot on China's Yellow Sea coast is at risk of being lost to development.

Lianyungang, in north-east Jiangsu province, is ranked in the top five key coastal waterbird sites in the entirety in China, both in terms of total waterbird abundance and important waterbird populations. More than 200,000 migratory waterbirds use the area annually, including 20,000 Near Threatened Asian Dowitchers – almost the entire world population – as well as 28 other species.

China, South Korea and North Korea have been working together to conserve migratory waterbird populations by nominating at least 17 coastal wetlands in the Yellow Sea for UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Lianyungang, however, is conspicuous in its absence from the list.

Almost all of the world's Asian Dowitchers stop off at Lianyungang during migration (John Nadin).

Lianyungang is already losing its wetlands. A good proportion of the mudflats used by Asian Dowitchers and other waders is being "ecologically restored" to an artificial beach, while a high-tide wader roost is being coverted to an area for industrial use.

In a letter in Science magazine, researcher Tong Mu and his colleagues highlighted the plight of Lianyungang, saying: "Lianyungang's tidal flats and aquaculture ponds provide vital foraging grounds and high-tide roosts, respectively, to Asian Dowitchers and other migratory waterbirds to refuel and rest.

"Ongoing conversion of these crucial Asian Dowitcher habitats will undoubtedly affect its global population."

They urged UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to work with the Chinese state to recognise the importance of Lianyungang and nominate it for World Heritage Site status.

The letter concluded: "UNESCO has articulated the importance of designing the Yellow Sea World Heritage network to maximise its efficacy and integrity. Omitting Lianyungang and Asian Dowitchers from protection will greatly undermine these goals."