Status of Birds in the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Nairobi Convention Area: Regional Synthesis Report

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The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region is recognised as a global biodiversity hotspot and is one of the least ecologically disturbed areas of the world. The high biodiversity in the WIO and its broad array of habitats, both in the coastal and marine environment, are however under increasing pressure from burgeoning coastal populations. Over 40 million people live in the coastal zone of the WIO, and signs of overexploitation and unsustainable conversion of coastal habitats for use such as agriculture, aquaculture, port expansion and urban development are becoming increasingly obvious.

The Nairobi Convention for the protection of the marine and coastal environment was signed in 1985 to, inter alia, protect and guide the sustainable development of marine and coastal environments of the WIO region. Ten countries in eastern Africa, southern Africa and the Islands States of the western Indian Ocean are signatories to the Convention. The Convention has three protocols that provide regional frameworks for protecting critical sites and vulnerable fauna and flora. Annex II of the Protocol Concerning Protected Areas and Wild Fauna and Flora in the Eastern African Region documents endangered wildlife in the region, including a list of important bird species. This report aims to update this species list and evaluate the status of birds and their habitats in the region.

The WIO region is a biodiversity hotspot for a wide variety of organisms such as coral reefs, mangroves, marine mammals and sea turtles. The WIO supports populations of the globally endangered dugong and is the region where the coelacanth was first discovered. The northern (Somalia and northern Kenya) and southern (western coast of South Africa) coasts are characterised by cool, nutrient-rich waters and high planktonic activity. The marine shallow-water environment of the central East African coast is dominated by highly diverse coral reef systems associated with warm, low-nutrient waters. Along this part of the coast, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass meadows are important and productive areas which support a diversity of life and provide food and other resources to coastal communities. They are also important foraging and nesting sites for birds.

Birds are a vital part of the world’s biodiversity and are present in almost all habitats worldwide. While birds themselves are important conservation priorities, conserving their habitats will also help in protecting many other species and the wider ecosystem. Protecting a network of sites that are important for birds will also protect other non-avian biodiversity. In this way, birds are “umbrella” species for conserving wider ecosystems. The marine and coastal environment of the WIO region supports a high diversity and large numbers of coastal birds and seabirds. Many coastal species (including shorebirds) are Palearctic migrants to the region and rely on the productive foraging areas in mangroves and mudflats. Many of the WIO’s seabird species occur in great numbers in three zones. Tropical waters are dominated by frigatebirds, tropicbirds, terns and boobies, while further south the neritic waters of South Africa are home to several near-endemic species. The more temperate, pelagic waters are dominated by albatrosses and petrels that travel to these productive waters to feed.

The report compiles known information on birds for the purpose of conserving birds and the wider ecosystems in the WIO region. It highlights species and habitats that are most in need of conservation to guide decision-makers and conservationists on where to distribute scarce funding and human capacity. Potential marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are also highlighted in this report, being important sites for protection of birds and wider ecosystems.

The specific goal of this regional synthesis report is to provide an objective and scientific basis for reviewing the bird list in the Protocol Concerning Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora in the Western Indian Ocean Region, which in its current form has many gaps. The report also provides information on the status of birds and the key habitats in the region, including the status of coastal and marine ecosystems in the WIO region. Using the information on the status of coastal and marine ecosystems in the WIO region, the synthesis has identified potential areas that can be designated as Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the region, which could be candidates for increased formal protection.

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