Race to protect Australia’s migratory birds: Australian Ecology Research Award winner for 2017

Australian research reveals that migratory bird numbers are declining with staggering severity and rapidity.

‘Community groups around Australia have monitored numbers since the 1980s. When we started analysing their data, we were shocked at the decline in migratory bird numbers; non-migratory birds have not declined anything like as quickly,’ said Dr Richard Fuller, an Associate Professor at the University of Queensland.

Dr Fuller is the winner of the 2017 Australian Ecology Research Award. The Ecological Society of Australia has presented the award to Dr Fuller for his work on migratory birds, as well as his contribution to Australian ecology through training graduate students and for his contribution to shaping environmental policy, both nationally and internationally.

Dr Fuller

Each year, millions of migratory shorebirds from Arctic Russia and Alaska migrate south to avoid the harsh northern winter.

‘The feats they undertake are incredible. The birds fly further than a Qantas jet. It’s amazing how they know where they are going. They seem to have an inbuilt GPS,’ said Dr Fuller.

Dr Fuller used satellite data to investigate habitat changes along the birds’ migration path.

‘Over the past 50 years, coastal development has destroyed two-thirds of the bird’s habitat along the coast of China and Korea. This Yellow Sea region represents a “fast food” restaurant for these migratory birds on their way to and from Australia,’ said Dr Fuller.

‘China and South Korea have built thousands of kilometres of sea walls to create new land. The development has cut off tidal mud flats from the sea, so there are far fewer places for the birds to find food. The birds are also threatened by disturbance and loss of habitat in Australia.’

‘The race is on to protect the birds. Australia has bilateral agreements with China, Japan and South Korea, and all four countries are working to stop further habitat loss.’

‘China recently proposed some habitats as World Heritage Sites. Many areas still need formal protected.’

‘We all need to do more – including Australia. We have an obligation here to protect migratory birds from habitat loss and disturbance. For example, we are trying to safeguard bird habitats around Moreton Bay, Queensland, which is home to 2 million people.’

Australia recently added three shorebird species to the critically endangered list: the sickle-billed Eastern curlew, and its smaller cousins, the curlew sandpiper and great knot. ‘Critically endangered’ is the final conservation stage before extinction.

The Australian Ecology Research Award recognises excellence in research in Australian ecology, for a specific body of recent work by a mid-career researcher.

Migratory birds

For further information and high-quality photo of Dr Fuller and of migratory shorebirds: Paul Holper, Scientell, 0407 394 661