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ASEAN’s intensified efforts vs. plastic pollution crucial to migratory birds’ survival

As migratory waterbirds are interconnected and interdependent to the network of wetland sites at the EAAF, regional cooperation is critical for their conservation.
Efforts to address plastic pollution is gaining traction in the region. Plastic pollution is a serious threat to migratory birds, with one million seabirds dying from the effects of plastic every year.
The ASEAN Member States (AMS) including Myanmar are engaging in regional cooperation through the signing of the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris, and through individual AMS’ efforts in reducing single-use plastic.
A related migratory bird conservation initiative is the ASEAN Flyway Network that facilitates regional cooperation for the conservation of waterbirds and the wetlands that support them.
Every year, 50 million waterbirds journey between their northern breeding grounds as far as Arctic Russia to their wintering grounds in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. These birds fly through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), their long-established route as they travel to warmer climates after breeding in the northern regions, and back again during breeding season.
The ASEAN Region is at the heart of EAAF, and is thus significant to these waterbirds’ annual migration. As migratory waterbirds are interconnected and interdependent to the network of wetland sites at the EAAF, regional cooperation is critical for their conservation and survival.
Migratory birds are important in healthy ecosystems as they travel distances and carry seeds from one place to another, one way they link ecosystems together across the world. They are also indicators of how healthy an area’s biodiversity is. United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) Convention on Migratory Species data show that at-risk conservation areas for birds also have a significant number of threatened species of plants and animals.
This World Migratory Day, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) highlights the importance of regional cooperation in protecting migratory birds and their habitats. With this year’s theme, “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution!”, the ACB joins the international community in the global fight against plastic pollution.
Plastic and other marine debris is an issue that transcends nations’ boundaries, as these debris move around the oceans, possibly entering other nations’ waters. UN Environment estimates that more than eight million tonnes of plastic get in the oceans each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute.
Plastic pollution is a serious threat to migratory birds. One million seabirds around the world die from the effects of plastic every year. Currently, 90 per cent of seabirds have plastic in their guts, and this proportion is expected to reach 99 per cent by 2050. If this trend continues, these birds may not survive the next generations.
Regional cooperation is thus essential to address this threat. Efforts in the region to reduce plastic pollution and marine debris are gaining traction. The 10 ASEAN Member States (AMS) adopted the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Region during the 34th ASEAN Summit held last June. In signing the Declaration, AMS’ heads of state committed to prevent and reduce marine debris using an integrated land-to-sea approach, strengthen national laws and regulations, and enhance regional and international cooperation, including on relevant policy dialogue and information sharing.
The ACB commends the AMS for taking measures to reduce single-use plastic in their respective jurisdictions prior to and after the Bangkok Declaration. Brunei Darussalam has enjoined major stores and businesses for its “No Plastic Bag Everyday Initiative,” and is now engaging small businesses and consumers.
Cambodia charges for plastic bags to encourage the switch to reusable bags. It is now aiming to attract investments in plastic recycling businesses. Several localities in Indonesia like Bali, Banjarmasin City, Balikpapan City, and more have banned single-use plastic. Likewise, different municipalities in the Philippines, including Los Baños, home to the ACB headquarters, have taken the same action. Indonesia also imposes a plastic bag tax.
Lao PDR and Myanmar are pushing for plastic alternatives like bamboo straws. Lao PDR encourages the public to use recyclable bags, while Myanmar has banned single-use plastic in its capital city Yangon. Singapore has designated 2019 as the Year of Zero Waste, with a masterplan mapping out its strategies to build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation. It has already banned plastic lids and straws for dine-in customers in fast food chains in 2018.
Malaysia aims to phase out drinking straws and plastic carrier bags by 2030. Thailand intends to ban single-use plastic products and styrofoam food containers by 2022, and Viet Nam envisions zero non-biodegradable plastic bags by 2026. At the moment, Viet Nam imposes environment tax on plastic bags.
These are just among some of the AMS’ initiatives in addressing the issue of plastic and marine debris.
Another initiative in migratory bird conservation in the ASEAN Region is the creation of the ASEAN Flyway Network, a virtual network of flyway site managers and other key stakeholders in the ASEAN region that facilitates regional cooperation needed to ensure the conservation of the migratory waterbirds and the wetlands that support them along the EAAF. The establishment of the AFN was facilitated by the ACB through the project “Improving Biodiversity Conservation of Wetlands and Migratory Waterbirds in ASEAN Region.” The project is being supported by the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund and is led by Singapore, through the National Parks Board. The project aims to enable effective networking within the AMS to share knowledge and collaborate in conservation efforts, conduct national planning workshops to identify priorities and challenges in conservation, and address information gaps across ASEAN on existing flyway sites, potential sites, and priority coastal areas. This year, waterbird counts and wetland assessment surveys are ongoing in target wetland sites.
With these coordinated efforts in the ASEAN region, we at the ACB are hopeful for the future of migratory birds and for the related species that will benefit from these actions.

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