• World
  • Feb 14

One in 5 migratory species at risk of extinction

• Migratory species globally are facing critical challenges, with nearly half in decline and over 20 per cent threatened with extinction.

• This was revealed in the first-ever State of the World’s Migratory Species report launched by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), a UN biodiversity treaty.

• The report was launched at the opening of the 14th conference of parties to CMS in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

What is a migratory species?

• Migratory species are found all over the world — on land, in the water and in the skies. Traversing thousands of miles, these species rely on a diverse range of habitats for feeding, breeding and resting, and in turn, play an essential role in the maintenance of healthy and functional ecosystems. 

• Often their migrations take them across national borders, and thus international cooperation is essential for their conservation and survival.

• Migratory behaviour is found in all major taxonomic groups of animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. 

• The reasons why animals migrate are complex and can be driven by a combination of factors, including tracking of seasonal resources and favourable climatic conditions, and seeking optimal breeding sites. 

• While many animal migrations occur in a regular and predictable pattern, some animal migrations can happen irregularly over longer timeframes, depending on the species and their specific ecological requirements.

• Some species, such as sea turtles, undertake long solitary migrations, while others migrate collectively in vast numbers. Within species and populations, there can also be variation in migratory behaviour, with some populations or individuals that are resident in parts of the species’ range and others that undertake long-distance migrations.

The importance of migratory species

• Migratory animals are essential components of the ecosystems that support all life on Earth. Globally, billions of individual animals embark on migratory journeys each year, connecting distant continents, countries and habitats through their migration routes. 

• Migratory species are of ecological, economic and cultural importance. Within ecosystems, migratory species perform a variety of crucial functions, ranging from the large-scale transfer of nutrients between environments, to the positive impacts of grazing animals on grassland biodiversity. 

• People around the world are reliant on these species as sources of food, income and enjoyment.

• Along their migration routes, migratory species provide vital benefits for people, from pollination of crops to supporting sustainable livelihoods. 

• Migratory species are also valuable indicators of overall environmental health: trends in the conservation status and behaviour of migratory species can provide an indication of the state of habitats along entire migration routes.

• Declines in the abundance of migratory species may result in the loss of important functions and services. 

• Conserving migratory species can also support the continued resilience of ecosystems in the face of a changing environment, including by mitigating climate change impacts. 

What is CMS?

• The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) is also known as the Bonn Convention.

• The negotiations to conclude the treaty were held in Bad Godesberg, a suburb of Bonn, Germany in June 1979. 

• The Convention entered into force on November 1, 1983 having secured the requisite number of ratifications and in November 1984 the first secretariat was established in premises provided by the German government. 

• The CMS is a global treaty of the United Nations that addresses the conservation and effective management of migratory species and their habitats. 

• The Convention was established in recognition of the fact that conservation of migratory species requires the cooperation of countries across national borders, in all of the places where such species spend any part of their life cycle. 

• The Convention therefore aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range through international cooperation and coordinated conservation measures.

• The Convention has grown in scope and scale over the past four decades since its adoption in June 1979. There are now 133 Contracting Parties to CMS. These Parties have made commitments to take action, both individually and together, to conserve migratory species and their habitats, as well as to address factors that impede their migration. 

• In addition to the 133 CMS Parties, there are a further 28 countries that, although not Party to the Convention, are Party to one or more of the Agreements and/or are signatories to one or more of the MoUs  concluded under the umbrella of CMS.

• India has been a Party to the CMS since 1983.

• The Conference of Parties (COP) is the decision-making organ of this convention.

• The Convention defines a ‘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.”

CMS Appendices

• CMS has two Appendices that list the species to which the Convention applies. 

• Species determined by Parties to meet the criteria can be listed within one or both of these Appendices. 

• These Appendices cover a wide variety of bird species, as well as antelopes, elephants, bears, bats, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, rays, sawfish and sturgeons, to name but a few.

• The species included in the Appendices are reviewed by the Conference of the Parties (COP), which convenes approximately every three years to review the implementation of the Convention and consider proposals for the amendment of the Appendices.

Appendix I – Endangered migratory species

Appendix I comprises migratory species that have been assessed as being in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range. The Conference of the Parties has further interpreted the term “endangered” as meaning “facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future”.

Appendix II - Migratory species conserved through Agreements

Appendix II covers migratory species that have an unfavourable conservation status and that require international agreements for their conservation and management, as well as those that have a conservation status which would significantly benefit from the international cooperation that could be achieved by an international agreement. The Convention encourages the Range States to species listed on Appendix II to conclude global or regional Agreements for the conservation and management of individual species or groups of related species. In this respect, CMS acts as a framework convention from which separate instruments evolve.

Key points of the report:

• The main focus of the report is the 1,189 animal species that have been recognised by CMS Parties as needing international protection and are listed under CMS, though it also features analysis linked to over 3,000 additional non-CMS migratory species.

• More than one-in-five (22 per cent) of CMS-listed species are threatened with extinction.

• Nearly 97 per cent of CMS-listed fish are threatened with extinction.

• The extinction risk is growing for migratory species globally, including those not listed under CMS.

• The two greatest threats to both CMS-listed and all migratory species were confirmed as overexploitation – which includes unsustainable hunting, overfishing and the capture of non-target animals such as in fisheries – and habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation – from activities such as agriculture and the expansion of transport and energy infrastructure.

• Three out of four CMS-listed species are impacted by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, and seven out of ten CMS-listed species are impacted by overexploitation (including intentional taking as well as incidental capture).

• Nearly 10,000 of the world’s Key Biodiversity Areas are important for CMS-listed migratory species, but that more 51 per cent (by area) are not designated as protected or conserved areas. 

• About 58 per cent of monitored sites important for CMS-listed species are under threat due to human activities.

• Climate change, pollution and invasive species are also having profound impacts on migratory species.

• As many as 399 migratory species – mainly birds and fish, including many albatrosses and perching birds, ground sharks and stingrays – are categorised as threatened or near-threatened but are not yet CMS-listed.

Way forward

• 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.

The State of the World’s Migratory Species report provides a set of priority recommendations for action, which include:  

i) Strengthen and expand efforts to tackle illegal and unsustainable taking of migratory species, as well as incidental capture of non-target species.

ii) Increase actions to identify, protect, connect and effectively manage important sites for migratory species.

iii) Urgently address those species in most danger of extinction, including nearly all CMS-listed fish species.

iv) Scale up efforts to tackle climate change, as well as light, noise, chemical and plastic pollution.

v) Consider expanding CMS listings to include more at-risk migratory species in need of national and international attention.

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