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Threading Safety Pathways For Transboundary Migratory Species


The Loktak Development Authority can pick up the thread from this observation concerning the indiscriminate use of LED light for night time fishing across Loktak water body which is stated as deterrent to the migratory water birds

By Salam Rajesh

“Habitat loss, fragmentation, and barriers to migratory movements continue to be a major threat facing migraory species”. The rhetoric underlined in the report ‘State of the World’s Migratory Species’ (2024), published by the UN Environment Programme — World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), brings to sharp focus on the threats migratory species face against the backdrop of anthropogenic influences that are largely negative by nature and in character.

Aside from the key threat as outlined in the headline, the UNEP-WCMC report states that the other key threats to migratory species are pollution (including light and noise pollution), climate change and invasive species.

The State of the World’s Migratory Species (SoWMS, 2024) report, which is a first-time-ever publication on the world’s migratory species, provides a comprehensive overview and analysis of the conservation status of migratory species and summarizes their current status and trends while identifying the key pressures migratory species face. The report also highlights illustrative examples of the efforts underway to conserve and promote the recovery of migratory species across the globe.

Article I paragraph 1(a) of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) defines ‘migratory species’ as: “The entire population or any geographically separate part of the population of any species or lower taxon of wild animals, a significant proportion of whose members cyclically and predictably cross one or more national jurisdictional boundaries”.

Under this broad definition, the hordes of noisy water birds flocking Loktak Ramsar site in Manipur during the winter months of October to February every year crossing national frontiers come under the general categorization of ‘migratory species’. Migratory water birds flying across two significant international flyways – the Central Asian Flyway and the East Asian-Australasian Flyway – visit Loktak without fail each year, although there are fluctuations in their numbers and species.

As much as few species of migratory birds are said to be no longer sighted in Manipur during these past decades, the SoWMS report contains a sad message for the world community: ‘One in five CMS species are threatened with extinction and a substantial proportion (44%) are undergoing population declines’.

The Nganu-kokngang (Pink-headed duck, Rhodonessa caryophyllacea) and the Wainu (possibly Sarus crane, Grus antigone) are the classic examples of migratory species of birds that are much talked about but no longer present in the State. The Pink-headed duck is already classified as ‘extinct in wild’, a saddening terminology indicating the total loss of the species.

The trajectory of species decline as outlined in the executive summary of the UNEP-WCMC report states that “82% of Appendix I species are threatened with extinction and 76% have a declining population trend”. This figure of loss adds up to “18% of Appendix II species globally threatened, with almost half (42%) showing decreasing population trends”.

In all of these years, there has been crucial deliberation at the global forums where it is arguably dwelt upon on the possible reasons for species decline, such as, habitat loss and decline due to massive deforestation and reclamation for commercial plantation, mining, urbanization and extension of developmental projects. High pollution levels and impact of climate change are also given as reasons for population decline of wild animals, birds, fish and other vertebrates.

The SoWMS report, too, highlights that “Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation (primarily driven by agriculture), and overexploitation (hunting and fishing, both targeted and incidental) represent the two most pervasive threats to migratory species and their habitats according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species”.

Over exploitation of marine biodiversity resources is explicitly given as the major reason for extensive decline in species like whales, Tuna, sharks and turtles. On the other hand, human intervention in inland freshwaters has led to biodiversity loss and species decline. For instance, human-led infrastructural intervention in Manipur’s Loktak Ramsar site has led to the sharp decline in species of migratory fishes that traditionally migrated upstream from the Chindwin-Irrawaddy river system in Myanmar to spawn in water bodies within the Manipur River Basin.

The SoWMS report without mincing its words places on record that the “deteriorating status of migratory species is being driven by intense levels of anthropogenic pressure. Due to their mobility, their reliance on multiple habitats, and their dependence on connectivity between different sites, migratory species are exposed to a diverse range of threats caused by human activity”.

The way forward is tough if at all the key messages in the report are deduced in their actuality. Howsoever, the report suggests that, ‘Given the breadth and scale of the pressures facing migratory species, coordinated international action is urgently needed to reverse population declines and preserve these species and their habitats’.

This stated observation becomes highly relevant for Manipur State, too, considering the perceived threats to the thousands of wintering migratory water birds flying in along the two international flyways, the Central Asian Flyway and the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. At the same time, the threats upon the migratory fish species call for urgent measures on the part of the State to come up with explicit policy to safeguard the migratory species and to prevent their decline.

To achieve this, the State needs to respond urgently to the thrust laid on the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and Target 2 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework: “to ensure that at least 30% of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems are under effective restoration by 2030”.

While calling for minimizing the ‘negative impacts of infrastructure projects on flyways, swimways and migration pathways for migratory species, with avoidance of impacts on critical sites for migratory species as a primary aim’, the SoWMS report cautions that, “Projects should be carefully planned from the outset in accordance with the relevant Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment guidelines, which should be adapted, where necessary, to include migratory species considerations”.

This latter observation inherently calls upon the State planners to re-think on their policies in hand and to re-work on the strategies to restore ecosystems and protect these in actuality in order to provide healthy and thriving ecosystems as critical habitats for the in-coming migratory species which are in a sense significant biological indicators of either healthy or unhealthy ecosystems.

At the conclusion of the fourteenth Conference of Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP14) at Uzbekistan’s Samarkand on 17 February last week, the Convention adopted the “Initiative for the Central Asian Flyway” that was introduced by India. The Initiative is expected to act as ‘a platform for capacity building, knowledge sharing, research and coordination among all range countries and would pave the way to conserve the population of 600+ species of migratory birds that use this flyway’.

The Convention further pushed for momentum on the International Light Pollution Guidelines for migratory species that was framed at the CMS COP13 at Gandhinagar in 2020. The guidelines seek ‘reducing light pollution to minimize its effect on wildlife, besides undertaking environmental impact assessments to understand the effects of artificial light on species behaviour, foraging, migration, dispersal, survival or reproduction’. This supplements the thrust area on light pollution impacting migratory species as is outlined in the UNEP-WCMC report.

The Loktak Development Authority can pick up the thread from this observation concerning the indiscriminate use of LED light for night time fishing across Loktak water body which is stated as deterrent to the migratory water birds. Loktak fishers at Champu Khangpok floating island village had since been discouraging the use of LED lights for night fishing within Loktak Ramsar site.


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