Migratory Shorebirds and Coastal Wetlands
by Dr. Gilberto Cintron, Branch Chief Latin America and Caribbean (Western Hemisphere) Program, US Fish & Wildlife Service
The Division of International Conservation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is extremely concerned about the potential impacts of shrimp farming on coastal ecosystems, because of its potential to degrade habitats used by migratory shorebird species of regional and global importance. Populations of these birds are already in peril, and are known to be on decline. This issue has been recognized globally.
On a global scale, the contracting parties of the Ramsar wetlands convention drafted a Resolution (Resolution VII. 21) to alert all governments of the destruction of certain habitat types, such as tidal flats, and the impact on migratory bird flyway on a global scale. Ramsar Resolution VII.21 urged "all Contracting Parties to suspend the promotion, creation of new facilities, and expansion of unsustainable aquaculture activities harmful to coastal wetlands until such time as assessments of the environmental and social impact of such activities, together with appropriate studies, identify measures aimed at establishing a sustainable system of aquaculture that is in harmony both with the environment and with local communities".. Unfortunately, since that time the problem has increased as the tempo of conversion has not abated but actually has increased significantly.
As a group, shorebirds undertake some of the longest-distance migrations of all animals. An element of shorebird conservation that raises conservation challenges is the extraordinary degree to which some species depend upon a small number of strategic migration stopover sites or habitats dispersed across the landscape. One of these critical habitats are salt flats that have recently received increasing attention for conversion into shrimp ponds. The potential impacts of this could be catastrophic to a very fragile and unique planetary phenomenon. Of particular concern for us in this hemisphere is that coastal wetlands are relatively limited, and increasingly development is focused on the coast. Unfortunately, although salt flats, in particular, are important coastal systems, their importance remains ignored by most coastal planners and developers.