Myanmar

Safeguarding Nan Thar Island for Myanmar’s Endangered Shorebirds

Project Cost: $274,217

Funding Raised: $35,199

$30.76 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)
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Nan Thar Island lies just off the northwest coast of Myanmar in the Mayyu River estuary. The mudflats that form Nan Thar provide globally important habitats for wintering migratory shorebirds. The most significant of these is the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. About 5% of the global population of this unique species winter annually at Nan Thar before migrating to Russia to breed. Nan Thar Island also provides a winter refuge for other globally threatened migratory shorebird species. Since 2008, annual monitoring has consistently demonstrated the value of this site for threatened shorebirds. In addition, the sandy beaches of Nan Thar serve as nesting sites for three species of sea turtles.

Communities living around Nan Thar are impoverished. Some hunt shorebirds and sea turtles to collect turtle eggs to supplement their incomes. Shorebird hunting has marginal livelihood value, but with such important wintering populations of Spoon-billed Sandpipers and other species, it can have a substantial impact on small populations.

Rainforest Trust and local partner Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) seek $274,217 to assist in designating the new 8,916-acre Nan Thar Island Wildlife Sanctuary. BANCA, with local partners, has already helped reduce hunting through engagement with local communities. Nevertheless, hunting activities continue, alongside sand extraction and climate change. BANCA confirmed a strong local interest in protecting the site during a recent stakeholder workshop for local communities and government. Establishing a protected area will not only secure the land for biodiversity, but benefit the local communities by establishing regulations for the management of the area and its declining fisheries.

Photo: Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpipers. Photo by Kajornyot Wildlife Photography.

Fast Facts

Location:
Myanmar

Size/Acres:
8,916 acres

Key Species:
Spoon-billed Sandpiper (CR), Spotted Greenshank (EN), Great Knot (EN)

Habitat:
Wetlands

Threats:
Unsustainable exploitation of resources, hunting, climate change

Action:
Designation

Local Partner:
Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association

Financial Need:
$274,217

Price per Acre:
$30.76

Biodiversity

Nan Thar Island and its surrounding inshore waters are an ecologically important coastal landscape in western Myanmar, harboring a mosaic of wetland types including intertidal mudflats and mangroves.

Nan Thar Island is recognized internationally as a key wintering location for migratory shorebirds, some of which are globally threatened. It meets the criteria of a Ramsar Site and has recently been declared an East Asian-Austalasian Flyway Network Site. Most notably, about 5% of the known global population of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper winters on the island. Other globally threatened birds that regularly visit include the Endangered Great Knot and Spotted Greenshank. Although it is only a small area, about 5,000 shorebirds winter on Nan Thar Island; to date, 67 shorebird species have been recorded. The island and surroundings are known nesting sights for three threatened species of sea turtles - the Endangered Green Turtle, the Vulnerable Loggerhead Turtle and the Vulnerable Olive Ridley. These have not yet been extensively studied locally.  

Photo: An Endangered Green Turtle Hatchling. Photo by Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association.
 

Challenges

Nan Thar Island and its surrounding inshore waters do not currently receive legal protection. This has led to the unsustainable exploitation of marine and coastal resources.

Declining fish harvesting has resulted in some local community members hunting shorebirds, which is the main threat to these species. While the impact of local hunting has yet to be assessed, a mere 63 hunters in the Gulf of Mottama in Myanmar have reportedly contributed to the global decline of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Sea turtles are also regularly hunted and their eggs collected. In recent years, BANCA has worked with local communities to raise awareness and hold community patrols, which has resulted in a decline in shorebird hunting. Communities around Nan Thar are impoverished and dependent upon natural resources for their livelihoods, so BANCA’s conservation interventions have been focused on alternative livelihoods and resource use. Climate change has caused sea levels to rise and extreme weather to erase important habitat.  

Photo: An Endangered Spotted Greenshank caught in a net. Photo by Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association.
 

Communities

There are five villages near Nan Thar Island with a total population of about 5,300 people. However, none of the villages lie within the proposed protected area.

These local communities highly depend on fisheries and aquaculture. Agriculture is practiced during the rainy season, mainly for rice, watermelons and chili peppers. There is a lack of education and health services in the villages. Water and sanitation are generally poor in these communities, and some villages even experience water scarcity during the dry season. BANCA and R-BANCA have established strong relationships with the local communities. They have been raising awareness through several campaigns discouraging shorebird hunting and instilling local pride in the presence of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The partners have also conducted socio-economic surveys and supported local communities by providing hand pumps for water. During a conservation workshop in September 2018, leaders from each local village agreed on the establishment of a protected area. BANCA will ensure gender equity and social inclusion of marginalized community members at consultations, which are set to take place at each stage of the designation process.  

Photo: Local community members monitoring the shores. Photo by Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association.
 

Solutions

Rainforest Trust and local partner Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) seek $274,217 to designate the new 8,916-acre Nan Thar Island Wildlife Sanctuary.

Shorebird and sea turtle populations at Nan Thar Island lack any formal protection of their habitats. Local communities are also challenged by declining fisheries. The proposed protected area predominantly consists of mudflats, mangroves and near-coast estuarine waters. The new site will provide protection for species and habitat of global biodiversity value. The areas to be protected are essential for the ecology of local fisheries to ensure a sustainable source of local livelihoods. The protected area will be established through a series of consultations with local communities and local government agencies. A formal government-led protected area establishment committee has already been created for this purpose. Biodiversity surveys will be conducted on taxa beyond birds to better understand the ecology of the environment and ensure the protected area is zoned appropriately for waterbirds, turtles and fisheries. BANCA will establish local conservation groups in each village to enable regular communication with communities. Protected area establishment will lead to government investment in the protected area through the provision of staff and basic operational costs. BANCA will continue to bring international technical expertise to support the protected area. Local NGO Rakhine Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (R-BANCA) will also support monitoring and engagement with local communities. (Photo: The local forestry department. Photo by Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association.)