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Environment

2014: Migratory wildlife year in review

Wild animals don't recognize borders - which is why their protection is a global concern. DW talked to Bradnee Chambers about developments for migratory species in 2014.

DW: What has been happening with our feathered and furred friends over the last year? If we talk about migratory species, which animals are we talking about?

Bradnee Chambers: The convention on migratory species covers animals that move between countries. This can be avian species like birds, ducks and geese, which migrate long distances. But it also covers aquatic species like dolphins, whales and sharks.

It also involves a number of terrestrial species: cheetahs, elephants, antelopes and snow leopards. We deal with any species that moves between international boundaries, from

monarch butterflies

to blue whales.

If we look back over 2014, has it been a good year on the whole?

Looking back over the year, we have had some setbacks. We are achieving some of the targets the global community has set for itself in trying to protect biodiversity. But particularly the target on protecting endangered species, we are losing ground.

Bradnee Chambers UNEP

Bradnee Chambers heads the UN's migratory species program

This past year has been quite difficult for elephants, where we have seen a record number being poached, nearly a hundred a day. We have lost about 60 percent of our

elephants

in the last decade. But we are also making progress in strengthening some of the instruments.

You had your major conference in Quito, Ecuador, this November. Were there also some success stories coming out of this meeting?

The convention can play a much more important role in protecting the species, but we need to have better outreach and understanding of how important the convention is for the species. Awareness-raising is a key aspect of our work. I think the [convention of parties] was good for reaching out to the general public on what the convention does.

We had a record number of species being listed for protection - we had 22

shark and ray species

listed. Many of these species are under threat from overfishing, particularly for finning - or shark fin soup which is very popular in Asian countries. We also had a number of very important resolutions on conservation, for example on wildlife crime. It is actually the third largest type of international crime.

A manta ray swims in the water off Raja Ampat islands, Indonesia. Indonesia (AP Photo/Herman Harsoyo)

Manta rays gained international protections in 2014

So what form does that take?

Illegal trade has gotten out of control over the last few decades. Asian markets believe that the

rhino horn

can be an aphrodisiac or fight cancer. That is completely untrue. And there are still a lot of Asian markets that put a lot of value on ivory ornaments, so trying to curve that is quite important.

Sharks often get a bad press because people tend to think they are dangerous. Is it difficult to raise interest in protecting a shark rather than a more cuddly and appealing animal?

Sharks are portrayed as maneaters, and you don't want to go into the water with them - much less protect them. But I think we are starting to get the message out that sharks play an important role in the ecosystem. They are global wanderers and amazing species. The only way to protect them is to involve a global convention like CMS.

A problem for our feathered friends is that their air space is blocked, either by electricity wires or increasingly by wind turbines. On the one hand we want environmentally friendly energy; on the other hand, this seems to be killing a lot of birds. That's quite a dilemma.

Renewable energies are a threat - it's not just wind turbines, but also

solar

, which is frying little songbirds and other species.

Ivanpah solar facility in California desert (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Ivanpah solar facility in southern California made news in 2014 for scorching bird species

We just released a report jointly done by IRENA, the international agency for renewable energy, which clearly shows that renewable energies can be compatible with migratory species, and there are measures that you can take to ensure that. It is simple things like understanding the migration patterns of migratory birds and insuring that when you put up wind turbines, they are not in those pathways.

And tidal turbines create a lot of underwater noise. But things like not having underwater projects during breeding or migratory periods can avoid similar problems for underwater projects.

What role does climate change play for migratory species?

You wouldn't believe the impact it has on migratory species: The increase in temperature actually affects the gender of sea turtle hatchlings. So when temperatures rise by 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, we see more female hatchlings and fewer males. Of course this has an impact on the population of marine turtles.

We are seeing the ranges of migration change a lot. Species that traditionally don't come into certain regions are now becoming invasive species in those regions, such as in the Arctic. The impact on coral reefs, which are so important for our aquatic species, is essential. Climate change has profound effects.

How are things looking for the species that live up there in the Arctic, either year-round or for those who are just there for some of the year?

Polar bears are affected by a decrease in sea ice, and in the next few decades we can expect a decline of more than 35 percent in polar bears. About 50 percent of wetlands in the Arctic have disappeared over the last decade, we are seeing species like the ivory gull affected.

Polar bear mother and young resting in Hudson Bay, Canada

The outlook for the polar bear is not great

With the decline in ice coverage in the Arctic, you are going to see a lot more development up there - a lot more drilling. This is going to affect pristine Arctic waters that have been pretty much left untouched from development. I am afraid we are going to see a lot of impacts in the future as Arctic

transportation routes are opening up

.

Bradnee Chambers is the executive secretary of the United Nations Environment Programme's Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

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