South Africa and its KwaZulu-Natal province are committed to the conservation of migratory waterbirds to preserve global biological diversity for future generations, the economic development MEC Sihle Zikalala told delegates at an international conference on Tuesday.
Zikalala was speaking at the seventh session of the meeting of parties (MOP7) to the agreement on the conservation of African-Eurasian migratory waterbirds, being held at the Olive Convention Centre, in Durban.
The conference runs until December 8 and will see more than 300 delegates in attendance from member countries including Africa, Europe, Central Asia, and the international conservation community.
The meeting aims to strengthen coordinated conservation and management efforts for the protection of migratory waterbirds throughout their routes.
Zikalala said: “The Africa-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds Agreement (AEWA) is an important intergovernmental agreement. It brings together countries and the wider international conservation community in an effort to establish coordinated conservation and management of migratory waterbirds and their habitats throughout their entire migratory range spanning across Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia.”
The birds link countries and ecosystems and contribute to poverty alleviation and sustainable livelihoods. They serve as a key contributor to the provision and the sustainability of essential goods and services such as eco-tourism.
Migratory species could also act as crucial indicators of global climate change and could reveal unsustainable land use practices such as overgrazing of livestock or overfishing.
It was also well documented, said Zikalala, that during migration, the birds faced a wide range of threats that impacted their chances of surviving the journey. Some of the dangers include electrocution due to collisions with high-voltage power lines and pollution.
“Hazards also emanate from the destruction of habitats that are critical for breeding, wintering and stopover – mainly through deforestation and change in land use and cover. We know as well that at their stopover countries and wintering grounds, their eggs and chicks face poaching,” said Zikalala.
As more and more countries take up renewable energy, the birds face new threats, such as being killed by wind turbines.
“Given all these challenges, there is an urgent need for a balanced approach that must ensure that the natural environment is not irreversibly damaged.”
Zikalala said South Africa remained committed to sharing its expertise and experience with the rest of the parties in order to ensure that migratory birds did not disappear from the skies.
The birds were also an important source of revenue for South Africa, he said.
“A 2010 study by the department of trade and industry (DTI) on avitourisim indicated that the total size of the avitourisim market is between 21,000 and 40,000 visitors annually,” said Zikalala.
“The DTI study estimated avitourists’ total spend to be in the region of R927 million to R1.725 billion per year with domestic avitourism spend accounting for between R482 million and R890 million.”
Delegates will be undertaking field excursions on Friday that include visits to the Kwamuhle Museum, Inanda Heritage Route, and the Sappi-Stanger Bird Hide.