UN Report: Habitat Loss and Overexploitation Are Driving Up Extinction Risk for Migratory Animals

Billions of animals migrate each year, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. As they travel vast distances in search of better feeding, more favored climate, or breeding grounds, they’re also benefitting the planet. These species help with nutrient transfer, seed dispersal, maintenance of ecosystems, and even climate change mitigation by storing carbon. A new report shows, though, that these animals – and their benefits – are at increasing risk.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), a UN biodiversity treaty launched in 1979, recently shared the State of the World’s Migratory Species report. It’s first of its kind research, combining population trends, conservation status information, and updated data on threats and conservation actions to build a comprehensive assessment of migratory species. It focuses on the nearly 1,200 migratory species listed under CMS, which have been recognized by treaty parties as in need of international protections. There is further data on more than 3,000 other migratory species, however.

Group of sharks swims near water's surface

The report shows that 44% of species listed by CMS are experiencing population declines, while 22% are threatened with extinction. That includes 97% of fish species. There were an additional 399 species not yet listed that are also shown to be threatened or near threatened.

CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel says, “Migratory species rely on a variety of specific habitats at different times in their lifecycles. They regularly travel, sometimes thousands of miles, to reach these places. They face enormous challenges and threats along the way, as well at their destinations where they breed or feed. When species cross national borders, their survival depends on the efforts of all countries in which they are found. This landmark report will help underpin much-needed policy actions to ensure that migratory species continue to thrive around the world.”

So what can be done? The report says an important step is to determine which locations are vital to breeding, feeding, and stopovers during migration and protecting them. In all, 51% of Key Biodiversity Areas identified with this importance lack protected status. Meanwhile, 58% of monitored sites are experiencing unsustainable stress from human activities. These need to be addressed, according to the report, because one of the two biggest threats to these species is habitat loss stemming from human activity, like agriculture, dam building, and energy and transportation infrastructure. The report showed that 75% of listed species are impacted by this. The report notes that minimizing the impacts of infrastructure projects on migratory species pathways would also be beneficial here, as would prioritizing ecological connectivity when identifying, designing, and managing protected areas.

Group of migratory Bactrian camels

The other biggest threat is overexploitation, which can include overfishing, overhunting, and accidental capture. This impacts about 70% of listed species. To address this, the report recommends increasing and strengthening efforts to minimize illegal and unsustainable taking of migratory species, even when it’s unintentional.

With climate change and pollution also big factors, it’s recommended that all types of pollution, including from light and noise, are better addressed, and that climate change mitigations are increased.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, says, “Today’s report clearly shows us that unsustainable human activities are jeopardizing the future of migratory species – creatures who not only act as indicators of environmental change but play an integral role in maintaining the function and resilience of our planet’s complex ecosystems. The global community has an opportunity to translate this latest science of the pressures facing migratory species into concrete conservation action. Given the precarious situation of many of these animals, we cannot afford to delay, and must work together to make the recommendations a reality.”

Green turtle swims along ocean floor

You can read the whole report here.

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