Rainforest Trust and partner Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST) recently worked together to purchase 19.5 acres in Pak Thale, a Key Biodiversity Area of Thailand’s Inner Gulf.
Scientists consider the gulf to be the region’s most important habitat for shorebird abundance and diversity. Part of the reason for that distinction is sites like Pak Thale. Pak Thale is a 123-acre coastal area along the western gulf dominated by flat salt pans. As the origin point for salt production from salt pans in Thailand, a tradition dating back over 800 years, the habitat has an important commercial history. Tides bring water over the flats, leaving shallow pools. Workers and tourists then harvest salt and other minerals as the sea water evaporates.
For millennia, before anthropogenic influence dominated the coast, these salt pans were essential to birds. This parcel of land, while small, is vital to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway—the most threatened flight path for migratory birds in the world. Birds following flyways need regular stopover sites to rest and refuel. But global economic development, compounded by the increasing impacts of climate change, threatens to destroy stopover habitat.
Several globally threatened migrant bird species—including the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and the Endangered Great Knot, Spotted Greenshank and Far Eastern Curlew—need habitat like this to survive. Pak Thale hosts over 7,000 waterbird species during the northern hemisphere winter. So while no mineral harvesting takes place on the land any longer, these birds offer a different economic opportunity for local people.
Birding—or birdwatching—is an international ecotourism industry. People travel with the express purpose of seeing rare birds like the Spoon-Billed Sandpiper, often investing in local protected areas and enlisting community members as guides. Ecotourism, if managed well, can be a boon to conservation and local economies. Rainforest Trust and BCST recognize the importance of the opportunity to protect birds in Pak Thale while promoting sustainable ecotourism that benefits local communities.
This purchase was made possible by gifts from generous friends, the Conservation Action Fund and the SAVES Challenge. A special thanks to Philip Spory, Terry and Soni Baltimore, Gary Welter and George Jett for their leadership gifts to help the “Spoonies.”
Header image: Two Critically Endangered Spoon-Billed Sandpipers. Photo by Bird Conservation Society of Thailand.