-an update on the Trust’s work in China.
In 1999 Mark Barter first visited Yalu Jiang National Nature Reserve, China and discovered its significance for shorebirds. In 2004 MNT signed a memorandum of understanding which established a sister-site partnership with the reserve. Since then Adrian Riegen has led annual teams from the MNT to the area. During those visits teams have been involved in conducting surveys, training staff, speaking to local schools and trying to raise the profile of birds and the importance of the reserve in the eyes of the locals.
So in 2009 what has been accomplished?
Eight surveys of the reserve have been done; early results indicate 300,000 shorebirds are likely to use the reserve as a staging site during April and May. The highest count in the reserve at one time has been 166,000 shorebirds.
More than half the Bar-tailed Godwits that come to Australia and New Zealand were seen at the reserve at one time, and with birds arriving and leaving at different times during April and May it appears that more than 115,000 Bar-tailed Godwits use the reserve. Satellite tracking and visual observations have shown that the New Zealand and eastern Australian Bar-tailed Godwits are more likely to be present than those from West Australia. The New Zealand Bar-tailed Godwit flock is usually around 80,000 birds and we expect that around 90% of those migrating each year use this site during their northward migration.
Different species seem to favour different sites in the reserve. At the western end of the reserve Dunlin are the most common species, while godwits are most common at the eastern end; of the 74,000 godwit counted in the reserve in 2009, 64,000 were found at one site, Erdougou. Why this is the case is as yet unknown.
As the surveys have covered the period before and after the closure of the Saemangeum seawall we can prove the Great Knots displaced from South Korea have not simply moved up the coast to YJNNR.
What does the future look like?
YJNNR is located in Dandong Region of China, and located on the north eastern end of the reserve is the port of Dandong. Close by is the city of Donggang. This rapidly growing city and port are putting pressure on the eastern end of the reserve.
In 2006 the eastern boundaries of the reserve were adjusted slightly to allow for further development of the port. The area that had been counted as Site 1 was included in this adjustment. In 2007 and 2008 birds still used the area as a roost site, however in 2009 the level of construction was too high for birds to use the site.
In August 2008 the port started a reclamation project aimed at increasing shipping and freight handling capacity. This reclamation would have started within the reserve and encompassed a large area of mudflat and Erdougou, Site 2, the main roost site used by Bar-tailed Godwit.
The reclamation was appealed by the reserve and was stopped. A smaller reclamation is now proceeding in the mudflats adjacent to the reserve. The reclaimed area will be in what we think has been until now part of the prime feeding area for godwits.
It has been suggested that a larger section of the reserve land and mudflat may be incorporated into city and port facilities. While there appears to be no set plan at this stage it is disturbing that it is being considered. If this were to happen the effect on the godwits in particular would be very serious.
On April 16, 2009 83,500 Bar-tailed godwits were counted; 64,700 in the reserve and 18,800 at the nearby Yalu River. All of these birds were roosting in areas currently being reclaimed, or now under serious threat.
YJNNR is located at the top of the Yellow Sea, many birds move north through the Yellow Sea, and YJNNR is the final staging site for their northward leap. If this site is lost there is no alternative, no where further north to move to.
At this point there are no plans for any reclamations at the western end of the reserve, however just outside the boundary approximately a square kilometre of mudflat has been reclaimed.
A road running through the reserve close to the sea wall has been under construction since 2000 and is now completed. This greater access has already led to an increase in small developments within the reserve with a new ferry terminal under construction, and a number of recreational parks and picnic areas along the sea wall. All of these increase the represent cumulative pressure on the reserve.
What are we doing next?
Over the next few months the Trust has committed to alerting people to potential threats, including informing the New Zealand and Australian government of the situation as well as writing to various levels of Chinese government to support the work of the reserve. The United Nations Development Programme is running a project in the Yellow Sea and will also be contacted.
We are also working on the next five year plan with the reserve. Surveys will continue, and with development around the reserve these become more important to tracking impacts within the reserve.
Emphasis will shift from training to more profile raising. As details are confirmed they will be outlined in MNT News.
Members who want to be involved over the next few years should contact Adrian Riegen.