Wadden Sea Day focuses on declining migratory and breeding bird populations in the Wadden Sea

The 11th Wadden Sea Day, held on 25 August 2016 in Wilhelmshaven, was dedicated to the question of whether the Wadden Sea is a reliable hub for migratory birds. Almost 90 scientists, managers and policy makers from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands gathered in the UNESCO World Heritage Wadden Sea Visitor Centre to discuss the unfavourable development of migratory bird populations in the Wadden Sea and along the East Atlantic Flyway, as well as migratory bird populations that breed in the Wadden Sea.

In his opening statement, Peter Südbeck, Director of the National Park, recalled that the first Wadden Sea Day in 2006 had already discussed the observed declining trends in migratory bird populations in the Wadden Sea and how to reverse the trends by gaining more scientific knowledge and engaging in appropriate management. Although a variety of different measures had been taken since then, the development of many bird species like oystercatcher or red shank was still negative. However, Südbeck also emphasized that the inscription of the Wadden Sea on the World Heritage List had increased the acceptance and awareness of nature protection amongst the general public and would allow even more effective waterbird conservation in future.

Further opening addresses were delivered by Stefan Wenzel, Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate Protection of Lower Saxony, who noted that migratory birds, which are not aware of borders and nationalities, demonstrated the importance of international cooperation for biodiversity, nature and bird conservation, Elsa Nickel, Director General for Nature Conservation with the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, who underscored the key importance of migratory birds for the Wadden Sea World Heritage and recalled that since 2011 the Ministry for the Environment supported capacity building projects for habitat and bird management in West Africa carried out in the Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative and Andreas Wagner, Mayor of Wilhelmshaven, who emphasized the importance of a healthy Wadden Sea with high biodiversity and healthy bird populations for visitors and inhabitants of Wilhelmshaven alike. Ms. Jung in Park, Deputy Director of the Marine Ecology Division in the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of the Republic of Korea presented greetings and referred to the Memorandum of Understanding between Korea and the Wadden Sea.

Specialist lectures were held by Franz Bairlein, Director of the Institute of Avian Research in Wilhelmshaven, Karsten Laursen (Aarhus University, Denmark), Marc van Roomen (Sovon Vogelonderzoek, Netherlands), Eldar Rakhimberdiev (University of Groningen, Netherlands), Theunis Piersma (University of Groningen), Hermann Hötker (Michael-Otto-Institut im NABU, Germany ) and Melissa G. Lewis (Tilburg University, Netherlands).

The presentation by Franz Bairlein focused on functional connectivity, specifically aspects affecting migratory bird development outside the Wadden Sea. Karsten Laursen gave an overview of monitoring methods and status of migratory and breeding bird populations in the Wadden Sea, noting that half of the breeding and migratory bird species were declining although the trends differed by Wadden Sea region. Marc van Roomen presented the latest migratory bird monitoring results and population developments along the East Atlantic Flyway and gave an overview of necessary new monitoring methods and census sequences for obtaining reliable data for effective management. In his view, the results supported the conclusion that for several migratory bird species on the way between Arctic, Southern Europe and Africa the Wadden Sea was not a fully reliable hub.
Eldar Rakhimberdiev underscored the importance of the breeding grounds in Northern Russia, where climate change and the resultant temperature increase were progressing faster than in the Wadden Sea. Migratory birds moved on to the Arctic sooner than in the past. Consequently they did not have enough time to “refuel” in the Wadden Sea and therefore faced unfavourable breeding conditions in the Arctic. In his presentation, Theunis Piersma showed that effective population conservation of knots and bar-tailed godwits needed detailed scientific knowledge and reliable information about migration routes, feeding conditions, habitats, predators and other physical factors. Focusing on the status and necessities for the conservation of migratory bird in the Wadden Sea, Hermann Hötker stressed that ecosystem studies would help understand where and when problems for Wadden Sea birds occurred and noted that breeding success, survival studies and benthos monitoring would support effective conservation management. The final presentation was held by Melissa G. Lewis, who gave an overview of the various international legal instruments relevant to the conservation of biodiversity, natural resources, migratory species and ecosystems of importance for migratory birds along the East Atlantic Flyway. In particular, she focused on AEWA, which played an important role in the cooperation between key partners working along the Flyway.

From left: Rüdiger Strempel, Karsten Laursen, Peter Südbeck, Marc van Roomen, Eldar Rakhimberdiev, Theunis Piersma, Franz Bairlein, Hermann Hötker, Melissa Lewis
Photo: Gerold Lüerßen

Following a panel discussion involving all participants and the audience, Rüdiger Strempel, CWSS Secretary, struck a cautiously optimistic note. He stated that there was no reason to be self congratulatory since the decline in numbers of migratory birds had not been halted in the past ten years. However he also noted that considerable efforts were being made at the trilateral level to ameliorate the situation, that our knowledge of the causes of the declining trend was growing and that there was considerable scientific and management potential in the Wadden Sea region. There was reason to hope, therefore, that if this potential continued to be leveraged the downtrend could be reversed in due course.

The 11th Wadden Sea Day was closed with a reception to mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Wadden Sea National Park Lower Saxony.

Wadden Sea Day is an annual event jointly organised by the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat and the Wadden Sea National Park Administration in Lower Saxony.


Additional links:

Download Wadden Sea Day 2016 programme

Birds in the Wadden Sea (trends and reports)

Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative (WSFI)

Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA)