GPS Tracking Being Used to Save the Critically Endangered Curlew

11 Oct 2017

Amanda Lilleyman, a researcher from Charles Darwin University, is on the lookout for one of the most threatened birds of Australia as the tide on Darwin’s outskirts surges across the salt pan. As she peers through some binoculars, she spots her target.

She says they’ve got several far eastern curlews as she points towards three birds’ silhouettes tracking across the dawn sky.

These birds make it to coastal mudflats around Australia from their breeding grounds close to Siberia, traveling 9,000 kilometers. However, their numbers keep dropping quickly due to their being habitat destruction along their path of flight.

Ms. Lilleyman says that the habitat is being reclaimed or destroyed in eastern Asia. Therefore, there’s been a significant decline in available intertidal mudflats which are where the birds feed.

The worldwide population of far eastern curlews declines by around 6 percent each year. Over the past several decades, the numbers have declined by around 80 percent.

Researchers worry that by 2035, the number of the birds may fall to around 10 percent of what the numbers were in 1993.

Gregory Andrews, Commissioner of Australia’s Threatened Species, says that it’s crucial they act to save the birds since their species have been declining at fast rates.

The far eastern curlew is among the species that are critically endangered, meaning it’s closer to being extinct than any other species. Ms. Lilleyman takes part in a 3-year project to increase knowledge about the Darwin bird’s roosting and feeding habits.

She says that Darwin is much like a “stepping stone” to a number of other Australian areas, making it an important site.

Her team, over the past 9 months, has been on helicopters watching the birds on the ground. Additionally, they’ve begun netting the birds so they can equip them with GPS trackers.

According to Ms. Lilleyman, it’s all about putting together the puzzle, connecting all beaches, roost sites, coastal areas and these saltpans to the mudflat where they feed.

The project’s objective is to come up with strategic planning guidelines that will help in preserving the favorite roosting and feeding sites of the birds.

One particular site is the Darwin Port, where the birds have safe refuge in dredge ponds during high tides.

Ms. Lilleyman says the highest count for the birds so far is 264 which is nearly 1 percent of the population of the entire world.

Co-funders of the project are the Federal Government’s National Environmental Science Program and the Darwin Port Corporation.

According to Mr. Andrews, the Darwin project is a great example of how conservation and business go together.

The far eastern curlew’s survival ultimately depends on vital East Asian-Australasian Flyway habitat preservation efforts.

The commissioner says they have to negotiate with Japan, Korea, China, and other areas along the birds’ flightpath to ensure it has sufficient stopover places while making its way to Siberia and back every year.

Otherwise, one of nature’s biggest migratory shorebirds could be nearing extinction.

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