Migratory species in Australia

Migratory waterbirds

Australia provides critical non-breeding habitat for millions of migratory waterbirds each year.  To ensure their conservation the Australian Government has fostered international cooperation through a range of important agreements, including the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Migratory Species, bilateral agreements with Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, and through the recently launched East Asian — Australasian Flyway Partnership.  A range of important activities have also been undertaken within Australia to conserve migratory waterbird populations and their habitats.

Migratory waterbirds and the East Asian - Australasian Flyway

Migratory waterbirds include species such as plovers, sandpipers, stints, curlews and snipes. These incredible birds make round trip migrations of up to 26,000 km each year between their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere and their non-breeding areas in the south. These trips are made in several weeks, with brief stops at staging sites along the way to rest and refuel for the next leg of their journey.

The corridor through which these waterbirds migrate is known as the East Asian - Australasian Flyway (the Flyway)  .  It extends from within the Arctic Circle, through East and South-east Asia, to Australia and New Zealand. Stretching across 22 countries, it is one of 8 major waterbird flyways recognised around the globe.


Wetland habitat loss and degradation is a significant threat to migratory waterbirds, and the conservation of important sites across the Flyway is essential to their survival.  Many pressures are contributing to this degradation, of which population growth and economic development in East and South East Asia are of particular concern.

International cooperation

For over 30 years, Australia has played an important role in international cooperation to conserve migratory birds in the Flyway, entering into bilateral migratory bird agreements with Japan in 1974 (JAMBA), China in 1986 (CAMBA) and most recently the Republic of Korea in July 2007 (ROKAMBA). Each of these agreements provide for the protection of migratory birds from take or trade except under limited circumstances, the protection and conservation of habitats, the exchange of information, and building cooperative relationships.

International efforts to conserve migratory waterbirds entered a new phase on 6 November 2006 with the launch of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (Flyway Partnership). The goal of the Flyway Partnership is to recognise and conserve migratory waterbirds in the East Asian - Australasian Flyway for the benefit of people and biodiversity. The Partnership builds on the successes of the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy (APMWCS) and its Action Plans, which have framed international regional cooperation since 1996. The Partnership also complements Australia’s international commitments to protect waterbirds and migratory species under the bilateral migratory bird agreements, the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

Conservation activities in Australia

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC Act) it provides for protection of migratory waterbirds in Australia as a matter of national environmental significance. The Act also provides for the development of plans to conserve listed species, of which the Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds was the first to be made under the Act in February 2006. The Plan was prepared in consultation with relevant stakeholders and outlines the research and management activities to be implemented over the next 5 years in support of the conservation of the 36 species of migratory shorebirds that visit Australia each year.

Since 1996/1997, the Australian Government has invested approximately $5,000,000 of Natural Heritage Trust funding in projects contributing to migratory shorebird conservation. This funding has been distributed across a range of important projects, including the implementation of a nationally coordinated monitoring program that will produce robust, long-term population data able to support the conservation and effective management of shorebirds and their habitat; migration studies using colour bands and leg flags; and development of a shorebird conservation toolkit to assist users to develop and implement shorebird conservation projects.

Bar-tailed Godwit.  Photo: Clive Minton


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