CBT co-chair Cathy Thicke, left, and CBT research director Dr. Laura Loucks present executive director of the Raincoast Education Society Mark Maftei the 2019 $20,000 CBT Biosphere Research Award. (CBT Photo)

Clayoquot Biosphere Trust awards $20,000 grant to migrating shorebird research in Tofino

Results will help understand the impact of human disturbance on Tofino’s migratory bird populations.

The Raincoast Education Society in partnership with Parks Canada Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and Environment and Climate Change Canada is the recipient of the $20,000 CBT Biosphere Research Award for their project titled Residency and Habitat Use of Migrating Shorebirds in Tofino, B.C.

The award winning RES research project, which is currently underway during the spring shorebird migration, aims to document migratory shorebird residency and habitats in the Tofino area using VHF radio transmitters to track movement patterns of individual birds.

A team of bird ecologists is working around-the-clock to trap and deploy VHF radio tags on approximately 50 Western Sandpipers, 20 Dunlin, 15 Sanderling and 15 Semipalmated Plovers. These four common species typically feed intensively over a few days during their southern migration and are vulnerable to human disturbance. Data from this research will help answer key questions such as: How long do shorebirds stay during their migration? What specific habitats do they prefer? Is human disturbance interfering with their feeding patterns?

“We’re very fortunate to have high-calibre researchers in our local community who actively contribute to biodiversity conservation within the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region,” said Dr. Laura Loucks, Research Director of the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, in a media release.

“The results of this research are particularly important to understand the impact of human disturbance on sensitive ecosystems and migratory bird populations within the Tofino Mudflats Wildlife Management Area, an integral component of the network of estuarine habitats reflected in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation.”

“The Tofino area is regularly used by more than 20 species of shorebirds (more than 40 have been recorded), many of which are declining at the population level. One of the key factors contributing to the decline of many of these species has been the increase in disturbance at stopover and staging areas along migratory routes. Our study specifically focuses on measuring the impacts to target species within an ecosystem of ecological and cultural importance,” stated Executive Director of the Raincoast Education Society Mark Maftei in the media release.

“The beaches and mudflats around Tofino annually host globally significant numbers of Western Sandpipers (>130,000) and large numbers of other shorebirds during both spring and fall migration,” said Maftei.

“However, these habitats are only partially protected by several overlapping management units including the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The majority of the mudflat habitat and Chesterman and Long beaches comprise the Tofino Wah-nah-jus Hilth-hoo-is Mudflats, a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site of regional importance. Both the ecological and cultural importance of the Tofino Mudflats as a haven for migrating shorebirds is reflected in this WHSRN designation. Of the 100 WHSRN sites designated in North America, Tofino is the only one whose candidacy and inclusion was directly championed by a local indigenous group, and the support of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation was instrumental in its establishment.”

“We’re hoping this research will help to raise the alarm for local, regional and global stewards to step-up our shared responsibility for protecting and conserving biodiversity in sensitive wetland habitats and coastal ecosystems,” said Dr. Loucks.

A report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPES) found that one million species are currently under threat of extinction throughout the planet due to the twin problems of climate change and biodiversity loss, which prompted the UK Parliament to declare a climate and environment emergency, according to the CBT media release.

READ: The UN’s devastating extinction report, explained in 5 charts

Furthermore, Dr. Fitzpatrick, Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Dr. Senner, a migratory shorebird scientist wrote an article in the New York Times entitled, Shorebirds, the World’s Greatest Travelers, Face Extinction. These scientists suggest the No.1 conservation crisis facing birds is the destruction of shorebird habitat such as the shorelines of oceans, estuaries, mudflats, lagoons, rivers, lakes and marshes.

Fitzpatrick and Senner also note, “the populations of 19 North American migratory shorebirds species have fallen more than 50 percent over the past 40 years”, and highlight, “the greatest threats facing long distance migratory shorebirds lie at the mid-migration stopover sites-wetlands and rich tidal mud flats serving as crucial refueling stations for millions of migratory shorebirds”.

“We need to act now as responsible stewards if we want to continue to enjoy the abundance of migratory shorebirds in the future and for the future of biodiversity for our children’s children,” said Dr. Loucks.

“We’re seeing an abundance of migratory shorebirds here because we still have relatively large areas of intact wetlands and ocean shoreline ecosystems. However, we need to take more responsibility for habitat protection. I don’t want to look back twenty years from now and ask myself why didn’t we do anything to make the necessary policy changes within the designated Tofino Wah-nah-jus Hilth-hoo-is Mudflats Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network,” said Maftei.

“We’re so fortunate that we can act now and really have a good chance at conserving biodiversity. For many other places around the world it’s too late.”

This is the fifth annual Biosphere Research Award the CBT has issued since the inception of this grant in 2015. Successful applicants must conduct research that addresses: (1) key ecosystem threats; and (2) conservation action within the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region.

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