The sixth triennial session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 6) will run from 10 - 16 November. It will consider specific proposals for stronger international action, review the Convention's performance over the past three years, and adopt a strategic plan for the next five.
"Because they cross national borders and depend on more than one habitat during their annual life cycle, migratory species are among the world's most vulnerable animals and many are close to extinction," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which administers the Convention secretariat. "The Convention on Migratory Species provides a forum for international cooperation that is absolutely vital to the species' survival in the wild," he said.
If adopted by the meeting, the 38 new proposals would amend the Convention's two Appendices. Seven proposals affect Appendix I which includes species that are in danger of extinction and thus in need of strict protection. The other thirty-one affect Appendix II which lists species whose "unfavourable conservation status" requires that they be conserved and managed through co-operative Agreements among governments.
Panama is proposing the listing on Appendix I of the manatee populations living along the Atlantic Coast between Honduras and Panama. The manatee used to be hunted intensely, but numbers are now so low that it is protected by law in Panama. Its habitat continues to be threatened by deforestation, sedimentation and pollution from rivers.
Argentina wants to see five species of birds added as well. One species, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper is "neo-arctic" - it breeds in Alaska and migrates down the length of the American Continent to spend winter in Argentina. It too is under threat through habitat loss and changing land use. The other four species are all rare grassland birds. All are coveted by bird collectors and are still captured for the caged birds trade. The other threat to all of these species, though, is the continued loss and degradation of habitat.
Other proposals call for adding species to Appendix II. Australia and the Philippines are proposing four species of dolphins plus the Whale Shark; South Africa is proposing seven sea-birds known as petrels, and Germany is recommending twelve species of Sturgeon plus several other fish species. Both dolphins and petrels are caught accidentally during fishing operations and it is hoped that the CMS can help coordinate actions to minimise this by-catch. The sturgeons are caught to provide caviar for the restaurant trade and are under threat due to over-fishing and also river pollution.
The COP will be immediately preceded, from 7 -9 November, by the First Meeting of the Parties of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA). This subsidiary agreement covers 170 species of migratory waterbirds that transit or spend parts of the year in 117 African, European, and West Asian countries.
This first Meeting will establish the Agreement's decision-making structures, start developing a system for sharing financial and technical resources amongst the member countries, and strengthen measures for protecting the common interest of all users - including subsistence and recreational hunters, birdwatchers, and conservationists - in improving the conservation status of threatened waterbird species.
The Waterbird Agreement enters into force on 1 November 1999. Already, some 20 research and monitoring projects have been launched under its auspices. One of these is a programme for coordinating transboundary research and monitoring projects and the development of conservation measures in 14 West African countries; it is managed by Wetlands International, an NGO of some repute, with active support from the Netherlands.
Both the CMS and AEWA meetings will be opened at a special ceremony on Saturday afternoon, 6 November 1999, in the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West, near Cape Town. A Symposium on Animal Migration will be held on 13 November. The COP is hosted by the Government of South Africa, and the AEWA Meeting is hosted by the Government of the Netherlands.
The Convention on Migratory Species (and its various subsidiary agreements) offers essential protection for many charismatic and ecologically important species. For example, it has launched projects for saving the Siberian Crane, which is seriously endangered through its Central and West Asian flyways. By boosting cooperation amongst conservation experts from all of the birds' Range States, the Convention has raised hopes that the species may yet survive in the wild.
The Convention has also made an enormous difference for the dolphins and small whales of the Baltic and North Seas. Approximately 10,000 of these fascinating but unfortunately endangered marine mammals are killed annually as fishery "by-catch". An unknown number are also killed by marine pollution and other human activities. For the first time ever, a comprehensive population survey was conducted in the summer of 1994, and an intensive research programme has been launched to discover how to improve fishing methods in order to avoid by-catches in the future. This Agreement served as a model for a similar Agreement for the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
The approximately 30 species of bats occurring in Europe are another example of the protections offered by the Convention. Under a special agreement for European bats, experts and conservationists throughout Europe have successfully raised public interest and stimulated conservation measures by state authorities and non- governmental organizations alike.
The Convention has also promoted activities to save the antelopes in the Sahelo-Saharan region of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, marine turtles of the African Atlantic Coast, albatrosses of the Southern hemisphere, Mediterranean monk seals, and a large number of other migratory animals.
Note to journalists: For further information, please contact Anders Renlund, conference press officer in Cape Town, South Africa (from Thursday 4 November) at the Hotel Lord Charles, Cape Town, tel: +27-021-855-1040; fax: +27-21-855-1107. In Nairobi, contact Tore Brevik, UNEP Spokesman on +254-2-623292, or Robert Bisset on tel: +254-2-623084, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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UNEP News Release 1999/119