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Migration devastation

By  Liu Xiangrui (China Daily)

09:59, June 27, 2012

While most scientists are proud of their breakthroughs, Dutch ornithologist Theunis Piersma, who discovered and named after himself a subspecies of the red knot (Calidris canutus), says he's ashamed to talk about the creature. "I feel very proud to have these birds named after me, but I fear that they may actually become extinct in my lifetime," the 54-year-old told a recent conference in the coastal city of Tangshan, Hebei province. The red knot subspecies piersmai is among many migratory shorebirds that make the inter-tidal mudflat in Luannan wetland a critical stop along their annual migrations from Australia to the Arctic.

As booming industry continues to devour the mudflat - one of Bohai Bay's last - these birds are losing the key resting site of their migrations and will likely face extinction.

Beijing Normal University ornithologist Zhang Zhengwang says: "While Bohai Bay is undergoing fast economic development, it's losing its biodiversity."

Bohai Bay has been an important "gas station" for millions of migratory birds, including many rare or endangered species, Zhang says.

The professor has researched shorebirds and environmental changes in the area for more than 20 years.

"Mudflats in this area provide these birds with the necessary food and habitats," Zhang explains.

"The rapid reclamations of mudflats have directly threatened their survival."

As mudflats along the bay rapidly vanish, migratory birds concentrate in higher density in the Luannan wetland.

More than 200,000 birds from about 60 migratory species, including many endangered species like relict gulls and spoon-billed sandpipers, make the mudflat their stopover or wintering site, Zhang says.

His team discovered that, in 2010, 62 percent of the red knots' and 23 percent of the curlew sandpipers' populations along the East Asian-Australian Flyway stopped at the wetland.

The flyway stretches eastward from the Taimyr Peninsula in Russia to Alaska in the United States, and its southern end encompasses Australia and New Zealand. Between these extremes, the flyway covers much of eastern Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and the western Pacific. It passes through 22 countries and is a travel route for about 55 migratory species, which equals about 5 million birds.

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