Migratory waterbirds travel vast distances during their annual migration cycles, following ‘flyways’ that connect breeding sites and other important areas. They are a wonder of nature and a globally important biodiversity resource. But human activity is threatening their existence by destroying vulnerable wetland habitats across Africa and Eurasia.
Migratory waterbirds – such as waders, terns and geese - need an unbroken chain of wetlands to complete their annual life-cycles. These same wetlands benefit people by providing clean water and opportunities for fishing, agriculture, recreation and tourism.
Reversing the deterioration of waterbird habitats is a huge challenge. The geographical scale of the problem is immense, with some species migrating more than 10,000km biannually along established and predictable routes. Addressing the problem therefore requires coordinated, international action to deliver results at sites in many countries.
The Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) Project
To overcome these considerable hurdles a group of international and non-governmental organizations led by Wetlands International and BirdLife International launched the Wings Over Wetlands Project (WOW) – the largest international wetland and waterbird conservation initiative in the African-Eurasian region.
In recent years, the “flyway approach” that forms the core of the WOW project has become a key factor in international initiatives supporting the conservation of migratory birds and the critical network of wetland habitats these species need to survive.
As such, many see this project as an important first step in furthering the experience on multi-country and multi-stakeholder projects focusing on the entire migratory range of multiple species, and an initiative that can serve as a template for future endeavours.
The WOW project is funded by The Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) and a wide range of other donors.
The area covered by the project spans four continents: all of Africa, all of Europe, south-west Asia (including the Middle East and Central Asian States), Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago.
Its overarching goal is to maintain the favourable conservation status of over 250 wetland-dependent species across their entire migratory range. It achieves this by strengthening the capacity of those responsible for planning and managing the conservation of migratory waterbirds and the critical sites along their flyways.
Demonstration projects under way in twelve countries (Estonia, Gambia, Hungary, Lithuania, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Turkey and Yemen) are providing lessons learned and leading practices.
UNOPS project management
UNEP is implementing the project and UNOPS is providing financial and administrative support as the executing agency. This includes administering all GEF funds, employing all Project Coordination Unit staff and contracting local executing agencies to enable local project centres and demonstration projects to carry out GEF-funded activities. It also involves managing all GEF-funded project activities and reporting regularly to the Project Coordination Unit, the Steering Committee and UNEP on the project’s financial and administrative status.
The project has made significant strides forward in its three work areas:
A stronger basis for conservation activities and decision-making resulting from a comprehensive, flyway-scale, network planning and management tool. The Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool is an innovative website to support international conservation efforts for migratory waterbirds. Available online at www.wingsoverwetlands.org/csntool, it will not only significantly help conservation efforts, but also facilitate national implementation of international environment agreements, such as the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The CSN Tool has been jointly developed by Wetlands International, BirdLife International and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Stronger decision-making and technical capacity for wetland management and migratory waterbird conservation. A ’Flyway Training Kit’ has was developed and launched in May 2010. It is designed to provide a flexible platform for developing capacity to plan, implement, monitor and engage in effective flyway-scale conservation of migratory waterbirds and wetland habitats in Africa and Eurasia. Content within the Flyway Training Kit can be mix-and-matched and tailored to individual needs and priorities.
Enhanced availability and exchange of information on management of waterbirds and wetlands along the flyway. Activities are progressing well in all demonstration projects and in all four of the project’s sub-regions. The project has a dedicated website -www.wingsoverwetlands.org/csntool - and information and project news is being shared periodically to a growing network through electronic newsletters and other publications.
As of December 2009 the project's financial delivery was well on track with well more than $5.5m in Global Environmental Facility (GEF) funds disbursed through agreements with 17 sub-contractors. Cumulative project disbursement (including co-financing) stands at $10.5m.