Bird Species in Crisis – Empty Skies

The recently published report called the ‘State of the World’s Birds 2018’ prepared by Birdlife International sends a stark warning to us all. 40% of the world’s 10,500 bird species are in decline and 12.5% are in danger of global extinction. Bird species are found in all places on Earth and many of them travel across the planetary eco systems. This makes them a perfect indicator of the state of the worldwide environment and it is not looking good.

Image of a flight of storks in Malta - bird species in crisis

August 2018: A flock of 18 storks that arrived in Malta was decimated by hunters – bird species in crisis

Thomas Lovejoy, National Geographic scientist, biologist and conservationist, said ‘If you take care of the birds, you take care of most of the big problems in the world.’ He long and rightly predicted that by early in the 21st century, the Earth would start losing a dramatic number of species. This extinction event is only the 6th in the Earth’s 4.5 billion years of existence and it is happening under our watch. We should be truly ashamed. Species are disappearing 100 to 10,000 times faster than the natural rate.

The worldwide devastation of bird species is caused by pollution, pesticides, over-consumption, deforestation, logging, introduction of alien species, climate change, hunting, poaching and trapping, intensity of human travel, over-fishing. All these factors have one thing in common – they are all directly caused by humans.

Not surprisingly the solutions lie in the opposite behaviour to the one causing the problem. We need to protect the Bird and Biodiversity Areas worldwide and increase their numbers and size; restore habitats so that species can function according to their social order – we are losing 10 billion trees a year; eradicate and control alien invasive species; urgently act to stop the sharp decline in bird population numbers that is affecting 52,5% of all bird species – this would probably involve captive breeding for reintroduction in the wild; dramatically curb the over exploitation of birds caused by hunting, poaching and trapping and the bycatch of seabirds by fisheries.

Image of a bird caught in a fishing net - bird species in crisis

Campaigning and education would play an important role in reversing of this hugely negative trend but these efforts would take too long and we do not have time if we are to save half the bird species of the world from extinction. Legislative intervention followed by unprecedented enforcement is necessary. Wretched indeed is the day when politicians doing the right thing is all we have left to hope for.

Conservation does work and a very small number of species (25) has been brought back from the edge of extinction in the past 100 years. This is a precious result but it is only 0.2% of the total. There is no doubt that without the conservation efforts by NGOs, like Birdlife, the situation would be much worse. Solutions for the tragic situation that the natural world is in, unfailingly hit the wall of lack of political will. The planet’s life support system is in freefall and what are politicians doing about it? Destruction of the environment is sanctioned by local governments but when it comes to remedial actions we are told this has to be discussed at EU or other international level. This is dishonest.

The environmental situation in most countries (Malta included) is a national emergency. In my opinion the military at national and international level should be brought in to protect and restore species and habitats in severe decline or under threat of extinction.

I believe conservation to be a human right – we have a right to defend other species, protect and restore habitats. These rights are at the very least equal to the rights given to the some to kill and destroy. We and future generations have a right to the regenerative, fully functional, life giving planetary ecosystems – the biosphere. This is our birthright. In fact all these rights should be entrenched in our constitutions in such a way that they cannot ever be removed. If our religions and our societal norms and values stand for anything at all, they should stand behind the right to life on Earth. Every government has a duty of care towards its citizens that is superior to any electoral manifesto promise.

Image of a bird on a beach picking up plastic - bird species in crisis

The United Nations World Charter for Nature, A/RES/37/7, was passed on the 28th October 1982. Malta has been a member state of the United Nations since 1 December 1964. This is a historic document that binds all countries on Earth and that declares humanity’s place on Earth for all to know. Here are some quotes from this unique document:

“(Member States) are to conduct their activities in recognition of the supreme importance of protecting natural (eco) systems, maintaining the balance and quality of nature and conserving natural resources, in the interests of present and future generations.”

“Aware that: Mankind is part of nature and that life depends on the uninterrupted functioning of the natural (eco) systems which ensure the supply of energy and nutrients.”

“Convinced that: Every form of life is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to man, and, to accord other organisms such recognition, man must be guided by a moral code of activity.”

“The degradation of the natural (eco) systems owing to excessive consumption and misuse of natural resources, as well as to failure to establish an appropriate economic order among peoples and among States, leads to the breakdown of the economic, social, and political framework of civilisation.”

“Living resources shall not be utilised in excess of their natural capacity for regeneration.”

“Activities which are likely to cause irreversible damage to nature shall be avoided.”

The United Nations have, by this Charter, declared a causal relationship between the degradation of nature and the loss of social cohesion and the breakdown of civilisation. The reverse is of course also true, meaning that healthy and functioning planetary ecosystems will promote social cohesion and a blossoming of civilisation. Think well and hard about what you have just read.

image of storks shot dead in Malta - bird species in crisis

Moreover the Charter also states “The principles set forth in this Charter shall be reflected in the law and practice of each state as well as at international level.” Politicians, please listen up.

In the following last article of this Charter we are all individually empowered by the United Nations to act in defence of the natural world. It seems to me that the U.N., fearing the failure of the political will to act, wished to give the power to all people to ultimately act.

“Each person has the duty to act in accordance with the provisions of the present Charter; acting individually, in association with others or through the political process, each person shall strive to ensure that the objectives and requirements of the present Charter are met.”

So, inform yourself as to the state of all life on Earth. Support environment NGO’s with your time. Use your purchasing power and vote to protect your life support system, the biosphere. Remember that the Earth is your home and that all other sentient life on Earth, who also call this blue planet their home, have an equal right to life.

Second in a serious of two articles on the ‘State of the World’s Birds 2018 – Taking the Pulse of the Planet’ report prepared by Birdlife International.

Article published in the Sunday Times of Malta, 9th September 2018