Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Waterbird count identifies species in trouble

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
January 10, 2006

For a long time, the public has regarded wetlands as waste-lands, though they are great places to see a variety of bird species.

During Dutch colonial rule, 15.40 hectares of land in Maura Angke, North Jakarta, was declared by the governor general of the Netherlands East Indies on June 17, 1939, a coastal nature and wildlife protection zone.

A ministerial decree issued in 1999 extended the zone to 25.02 hectares, covering coastal areas of Jakarta and the mouth of Angke River.

However, a visit to Maura Angke Wildlife Reserve (SMMA), which was named after a warlord of Banten, Tubagus Angke, reveals the area has been neglected in recent decades.

The river carries along with it the waste of those who live and work on its banks, from fishermen to vast industries.

Visitors must pass over pools of mud on rickety pathways and the security and information posts are in dire need of renovation.

But the reserve is still a haven for bird-spotters.

More than 30 bird lovers and volunteers gathered in the area Sunday for their annual waterbird count.

The bird count, organized by Wetlands International -- a nonprofit group dedicated solely to wetland conservation and sustainable management -- Jakarta's Green Monster and Flora and Fauna International (FFI), began in the early morning.

By noon, participants had spotted 408 birds belonging to 22 species in the reserve.

The annual census is a part of the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC), which has been running since 1987 and usually takes place in the second and third weeks of January.

It runs parallel to other census of waterbirds in Africa, Europe, Central and West Asia and Latin America, under the umbrella of the International Waterbird Census (IWC).

"This data will be brought together with data from wetlands elsewhere, providing the basis for estimates of waterbird populations. The counting may have been done over a relatively short period of time, but any wildlife count is subject to conditions. However, it is important in providing basic data and an overview of the waterbird population," said Imanuddin from Wetlands International.

"Because this is an annual event we can determine how the bird population is affected by the reclamation of Jakarta Bay. If it shrinks, then we will have the basis to say development activities in the bay area are posing a threat to the birds in the sanctuary."

Alex from the FFI said the objectives of the census were to monitor the changes in waterbird numbers and distribution, to improve knowledge of lesser-known waterbird species and wetland sites, to provide information on the conservation status of waterbirds species and to raise awareness of the importance of waterbird and wetland habitats.

"The more we know about the population and condition of inhabitant or visiting birds, the better we can manage this place as a wildlife protection zone," he said.

A few month ago, nonprofit group Jakarta's Green Monster dredged tons of rubbish from the site.

A study by the Institute of Mangrove Research and Development (IMReD) shows there are 76 species of birds in the reserve, of which 17 are protected and 50 others endemic, and there are 10 species of migratory birds.

Muara Angke wildlife reserve is home to two endemic bird species, the Sunda coucal (Centropus nigrorufous) and the milky stork (Mycteria cinerea), both of which are endangered. A coucal is one of about 30 species of birds in the cuckoo family.

"This is why this site is very important for bird conservation. In order for a species to survive, there must be 500 or more birds. There are no more than 50 coucal left. It will become extinct within two years," Aminuddin said.

He said the coucal was particularly vulnerable because it could not fly for more than 20 meters at a stretch and the reserve was surrounded by buildings, so there was no chance of it emigrating to another area where it might have a greater chance of survival.

Ruskomala Sari, a student from the private National University, saud she did not enjoy the bird counting very much because of the poor condition of the reserve.

"For beginners it is very interesting because waterbirds have bigger builds than land birds. However, I feel bad about the poor condition of the site," said the student who has been spotting birds as a hobby since 2003.

"It's strange that a wildlife sanctuary should be surrounded by a mall, housing complex and slums."

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