Yellow Sea wetlands achieve UNESCO World Heritage status with support from Wetlands International

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The first parts of the world’s largest intertidal mudflat ecosystem and its fringing marshes on the Yellow Sea, China, have received UNESCO World Heritage status in July 2019.

With the help of Wetlands International, and other conservation partners, two significant parts of the region were late last month officially inscribed in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as, “Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of the Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf of China (Phase I)” at the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Azerbaijan.

The announcement is a victory for the protection of these wetlands, their wildlife and the communities they support, helping raise their conservation profile to a global stage. It also recognises the steps the Chinese government has taken to protect and restore coastal wetlands, especially over the last year.

The wetland habitats support millions of waterbirds, hosting at least 17 cross-continental migratory bird species on the IUCN Red List, including the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, Oriental Stork, Red-crowned Crane, Great Knot and Nordmann’s Greenshank, and the vulnerable Saunders’s Gull.

Around 80% of the world’s Red-crowned Crane population and more than 90% of the remaining Spoon-billed Sandpiper population as well as significant populations of the threatened Far-eastern Curlew and Great Knot depend on the marshes and the associated intertidal mudflats. All these species use the region as a staging point on their migrations or during the non-breeding periods.

Wetlands International has long worked  in the region – initially through the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy and later through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership. We have worked with the Chinese and Korean governments, research institutions, and NGO partners providing expert knowledge, monitoring waterbirds and wetlands, strengthening management capacity and improving conservation outreach for the Yellow Sea wetlands.

Becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site not only brings international recognition, and prestige but also draws attention to the challenges being faced, according to Ward Hagemeijer, Program Head Business and Ecosystems at Wetlands International. This presents opportunities for new international partnerships and investment that can support efforts for restoration and preservation of a unique ecosystem.

“We congratulate the government of the People’s Republic of China and Jiangsu provincial authorities for this milestone. We will continue to work closely with the Chinese government and partners to support the conservation of the Phase I wetlands and support plans for the Phase II nomination of additional Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of the Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf of China under the World Heritage Listing,” said Hagemeijer.

“We continue to provide technical assistance in restoring, managing and monitoring these critically important wetlands around the Yellow Sea under our Flyway Bottleneck Yellow Sea project.”