Asian Waterbird Census 2016

Asian Waterbird Census is an annual event in which thousands of volunteers across Asia and Australasia count waterbirds in the wetlands of their country. This event happens every January. This event is coordinated by wetalands International and forms part of global waterbird monitoring programme called the International Waterbird Census (IWC).

Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) was started in the year 1987. Its main focus is to monitor the status of waterbirds and the wetlands. AWC also aims to create public awareness on various issues concerning wetlands and waterbird conservation. Each year the census is carried out as a voluntary activity.

What is so special about this year’s census?

2016 marks the 50th global International Waterbird Census (IWC). With this, it has become the world’s longest running biodiversity monitoring programme. 2016 also marks the 30th year of AWC.

What are waterbirds and how it helps in determining the wetlands under Ramsar convention?

According to Wetlands International (WI), waterbirds are defined as species of birds that are ecologically dependent on wetlands. These birds are considered to be an important health indicator of wetlands of a region.

Any wetland which consistently holds 1% or more of waterbirds can be qualified as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

What are the objectives and purpose of this census? How the data is used in conservation?

The main objective of the programme is to obtain information of waterbirds during non-breeding season (January) and use it as a basis for monitoring of waterbird population and evaluate sites based on it. The second objective of the census is to monitor annually the status and conditions of wetlands. Thirdly, the census wants to encourage greater interests amongst the people regarding the waterbirds and wetlands. By doing so, it wants to promote the conservation of wetlands of a region.

Purpose and usage of the data collected:

The data collected from the census is used in identification and monitoring of wetlands of national and international importance. It helps in designating wetlands as Ramsar sites, nationally protected areas and Important Bird and Biodiversity areas (IBAs) as well as in identification and protection of new sites of importance for waterbirds. It also helps in promoting conservation and cooperation for waterbirds all along the Central Asian Flyaway. For the unintiated, Central Asian Flyaway is a large continental area between the Arctic and Indian Ocean. It also includes the associated island chains present in the region. It comprises of several migration routes of waterbirds and spans from the breeding grounds in Siberia to the non-breeding grounds in the Maldives, South and West Asia and the British Indian Ocean Territory.

In addition, the data paves way for the protection and knowledge enhancement about the waterbirds and also helps to keep track of the population size, status, and trends of waterbirds.

Also, with increasing anthropogenic pressure, it becomes essential to monitor the wetlands. Hence, the citizen-science programmes like AWC are therefore, a need of the hour.

Who is the coordinating authority for the census in India?

In India, the AWC is annually coordinated by the Bombay Natural history Society (BNHS) and Wetlands International.

Tell me more about BNHS and Wetlands International?

BNHS is a non government Organisation (NGO) founded in the year 1883. It engages itself in the conservation of nature and natural resources and also in the research and conservation of endangered species. Its mission is to conserve nature, primarily biological diversity through action based on research, education and public awareness.

Wetlands International is a non-profit organization established in 1937 as ‘International Wildfowl Inquiry’. In 1996, it was renamed as Wetlands International and has its headquarters in the Netherlands. It works to sustain and restore wetlands and their resources through research and community based field projects. It works closely with several NGOs and governments of various countries to preserve and conserve wetlands.

Throw some light on how the census is organized.

The census is annually organized during the third week of January. The data is collected by national networks of volunteers from all walks of life. The data is recorded in standardized forms and the information is submitted to the National Coordinators and regional coordinators. The BNHS is assisted by the Regional Coordinators in coordinating the census activity. Further, the data collected is forwarded to wetlands international South Asia Office for maintaining the IWC’s database.

Around 30 million to 40 million waterbirds are counted annually from over 100 countries in which around 15,000 volunteers participate.

Describe about the type of species and sites covered in this census?

The types of species covered in this census include all types of waterbirds, which are regularly present in the wetlands. The most common examples are: grebes, flamingos, jacanas, gulls, ducks, geese, storks, pelicans, herons, egrets, spoonbills, cormorants, skimmers, swans etc. In addition to the above, birds like kingfishers, raptors and other birds which are largely dependent on food resources in these areas are covered in this census. As a matter of fact, 600 out of 1200 species of birds reported in India are wetlandbirds.

All types of natural and man-made wetlands are covered in this census: rivers, lakes, reservoirs, mudflats, freshwater swamps, rice fields, ponds, mangroves, coral reefs, sewage farms etc.

What are the organizations which use the results of the census?

The data collected are used by governmental and non-governmental agencies for conservation activities. It is used by the Ramsar convention on wetlands, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), BirdLife International’s Important Bird Area (IBA) programme, IUCN/BirdLife International’s Global Species programme (Red List) etc.