Wetland conservation vital for black-faced spoonbill population

Taipei, April 13 (CNA) – Taiwan’s wetlands need to be better protected, as unstable populations of black-faced spoonbills have been recorded in recent years in the country, the main wintering destination for the endangered species, conservationists said Saturday.

According to the 2019 International Black-faced Spoonbill Census, 2,407 black-faced spoonbills overwintered in Taiwan this year, an increase of 212 from last year, with the global population of the species breaking 4,000 for the first time to reach 4,463.

While it is a remarkable conservation success for the migratory bird worldwide, its population in Taiwan remains lower from the peak in 2017, when there were 2,601 of the birds, according to the Taiwan-based Chinese Wild Bird Federation, which is responsible for the bird counts in Taiwan.

Fluctuations in the populations in Taiwan suggest a bottleneck in conservation efforts, especially as the country is seeing shrinking wetland areas, said Lee Yi-hsin (李益鑫), secretary-general of the federation.

The wetlands along Taiwan’s southwestern coast are major habitats for the bird, which is included on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a globally endangered species, Lee said.

However, development projects in those areas, including an expansion of the Hsinta Power Plant in the Yongan Wetlands in Kaohsiung, and road developments in the city’s Cieding Wetlands, could put the bird’s habitats at risk, he said.

Lee cautioned against overdevelopment in areas where various migratory waterbirds overwinter.

According to the annual census, Taiwan’s black-faced spoonbill population accounted for 53.9 percent of the global population, with Tainan, Chiayi, and Kaohsiung in southwestern Taiwan their main habitats.

Among the 2,407 birds observed in Taiwan, 1,572 (65.3 percent) were spotted in Tainan, mostly in the Qigu and Sicao wetlands, with 488 (20.3 percent) in Chiayi’s Budai and Aogu wetlands, as well as 245 (10.2 percent) in Kaohsiung, respectively, the data shows.

The census, launched in 2003 to monitor the species whose population once dropped to under 300 in the 1980s, was conducted Jan. 26-27 in countries in East and Southeast Asia, including Japan, China, Thailand, and the Philippines.

By Lee Hsin-Yin