Why we count waterbirds for wetland management

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In the last week, over 10,000 birders in 150 countries have set off for the International Waterbird Census (IWC). In its 50th year, the IWC is monitoring record numbers of migratory and indigenous waterbirds across the world. This year sees inaugural counts in many new countries, especially those in the Indian Ocean, including Bahrain, Seychelles, the Maldives, the dependent territory of Réunion, and the British Island Territories.

There are counting teams in many important sites, such as Barr al Hikman, Oman, where we have a team blogging about their experience. Counts are happening along all of the global flyways, and the teams will be reporting back their findings in the coming days.

2017 also sees more coverage of more sites than ever before. A huge portion of the African coastline will be surveyed, thanks to special counting initiatives in the East Atlantic Flyway, Indian Ocean and North Africa. Coasts in India, including the Andaman Islands are being covered extensively, with support from Wetlands International and the Bombay Natural History Society. National Geographic is supporting our Indonesian office to survey key wetlands in the East Asian-Australasian flyway. And international partners are also pushing to make this census the biggest yet.

The initial objective of the IWC was to monitor waterbirds for conservation purposes, and to identify important non-breeding sites where migratory birds can rest before embarking on the long journeys back to their breeding grounds.

The IWC has helped species and populations that were once in serious decline make spectacular recoveries. Lost refuges for populations on the brink of extinction have been discovered, protected and restored. Studies from the IWC continue to alert us to declines and help us take the right actions to protect increasingly endangered species and their habitats.

Due to the amount and the high quality of the data being gathered, the IWC has also become a really valuable scientific tool for a broad scientific community. The counts have led to research on the global scale – such as the study of climate change, and down to the local scale, identifying changes in weather patterns and local pollution effects. We have even tracked outbreaks of avian flu.

Given that this year’s census is so big, it’s exciting to think of what scientific contributions will come from the data being gathered right now.

If you would like to support the important work of the IWC and related projects, then please donate to the Waterbird Fund.