Waterbirds in Myanmar's Irrawddy River declined by up to 90% over the last 14 years

Over the last 14 years, waterbirds in Myanmar's Irrawddy River declined by 60% to 90% depending on the species. Scientists working for Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Manfred Hermsen Foundation have repeated an ornithology survey of the Myitkyina to Mandalay stretch of the Irrawaddy River last carried out in 2003. They found that many waterbirds have declined sharply. More than 20,000 waterbirds (61 species) were recorded along the river, with small pratincole (Glareola lactea) and ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) the most numerous recorded. But despite their relative abundance compared with other waterbirds, both of these charismatic species have also experienced a very drastic population decline since the last survey. Species' population declines range from 59 to 98%, compared with survey data from 2003 for the river section between Myitkyina and Sinbo alone. Lead scientist Christoph Zoeckler said, "The Irrawaddy River is one of the last remaining wild, un-dammed rivers in Asia, with the section between Myitkyina and Sinbo considered to be of particular importance for conservation. Despite the decline, this is still a globally-important site for waterbirds. Therefore we believe it is now critical to secure the designation of this river section as a globally important wetland under the international protection of the Ramsar convention."

"At the moment, the riverbanks are covered in household waste while sandbanks are being dug up for gold-mining. Unless immediate drastic measures are undertaken to reduce the threats in the most important river sections, habitats for waterbirds will disappear and the river will turn into wasteland," said FFI's Myanmar Country Director Frank Momberg.

The Irrawaddy River is one of the last major remaining rivers in Asia not affected by dams or any other impediments in the water course, and as a result it is able to transport water, sediment and nutrients unobstructed downstream, and provide critical habitat for biodiversity. Sadly, the human impact on the river is visible and increasing. The serious decline of waterbirds and other birds is associated with the loss of habitats, mostly due to expansion of agricultural land onto sandbanks, riverine swamps and other wetlands, but it is also due to widespread gold panning. Bird trapping and bait poisoning has also been observed throughout the river and seems to be systemic and wide-spread.

Source: PhysOrg, 23 Feb 17