Russian attack threatens efforts to protect nature outside Ukraine, researchers say


Russia's aggression threatens efforts to protect nature outside of Ukraine

Red-breasted geese breed mainly on the Taymyr Peninsula of Russia and migrate to areas near the Black Sea in Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. Credit: Daniel Mitev, CC BY-ND

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022 has sent economic, social and political shock waves around the world. In a newly published policy brief, we and other conservation researchers and scientists describe how these effects extend to biodiversity conservation efforts far beyond Ukraine.

Animals, plants and ecosystems do not recognize political borders, so international cooperation is often necessary to protect them. Over many years, countries have developed a network of international agreements and arrangements to protect biodiversity. Now, however, the war at the hands of Russia is slowing down some of those efforts, halting others, and even setting some back.

War and the sand piper spoon

For one example, efforts to save the spoon-billed sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) from extinction are now at risk as a result of the war in Ukraine.

The treeless tundra of Russia, in the High Arctic, is the summer home of rare birds that come as far as Africa, southern Asia, Australia and even South America. Among them is the tiny spoonbill sandwich, which weighs about 1 ounce (28 grams).

These small birds nest in the Far East of Russia and migrate during the Northern Hemisphere winter to Southeast Asia. Due to hunting and habitat loss, fewer than 600 of the birds remain.


Russia's aggression threatens efforts to protect nature outside of Ukraine

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a wetland-dependent species that breeds in the treeless tundra of the Russian Far East. It is estimated that they have a total population of around 600. Credit: Sayam Chowdhury, CC BY-ND

Since 2012, a multinational team of researchers and conservationists has been running a “headstart” breeding program that collects spoon-billed sandpipers from the wild, hatches them and raises chicks in custom-made aviaries on the Russian tundra. This strategy protects chicks from predators, giving them a better chance to reach maturity and reproduce.

Restrictions on international travel to and from Russia halted this program, which is critical to the survival of the sandpipe, by preventing collaborators from traveling to the site overseas. Russia has also been suspended from the SWIFT interbank system—the main system that powers international transfers of funds between financial institutions around the world. This has hindered transfers of international funds that are much needed for conservation work on the ground.

Russia’s invasion is also delaying the possibility of preserving critical habitats. For example, important wetlands along the coast of China that are part of the spoon-billed sand migration route have been designated as World Heritage Sites. There is a proposal to extend habitat protection under the World Heritage Convention to other areas along the migration route, which is also vital for other bird species.

At the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia chaired the United Nations committee that oversees the designation of new sites. Other countries that signed the World Heritage Convention boycotted the process, refusing to work in Russia or under Russian leadership. Russia has since resigned as chairman of the committee, but the process of naming the site has been delayed for more than a year.

Vast lands and waters of Russia

Russia has the largest surface area of ​​any country in the world, covering more than 6.6 million square miles (17 million square kilometers). This vastness makes Russia a vital place for biodiversity.

Besides the spoonbill, birds that visit Russia from other countries include the red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis), which migrates to areas near the Black Sea, and the gray thrush (Catharus minimus), which migrates to South America. . In total, Russia is the breeding ground for over 500 species of migratory birds, 52 of which are in danger of extinction.

Other species also pass through Russian territory on their migration. These include brave mammals, such as the wild forest caribou (Rangifer tarandus fennicus), and the critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). Russian waters contain many species of fish, including commercially valuable species such as salmon and sturgeon.

In terms of ecosystems, Russia has the largest and most well-preserved forests in the world. They provide critical habitats for many species and contain huge stores of carbon, so protecting them in the face of climate change has global implications. Further north, about half of the Arctic Ocean’s coastline, including areas with little human impact, lies within Russia.

Link in global conservation networks

Russia has been involved in international efforts to manage and conserve species for over a century, beginning in 1911 when it signed the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention. Since then, Russia has drawn up more than 50 international agreements on the conservation of biodiversity, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the East Asia-Australia Flyway Partnership and the Bilateral China-Migratory Bird Agreement Russia.

Now Russia’s diplomatic isolation is hampering work under multilateral arrangements like the Arctic Council, which includes the eight countries with Arctic territory and half a dozen regional indigenous organizations. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Council has suspended its operations, although it aims to resume some of them on a limited scale that does not include Russia. The Arctic Council has a working group on biodiversity conservation, including specific initiatives to conserve migratory birds.

Russia has more than a fifth of the world’s forests, but poorly managed logging and illegal logging are threatening their health and their ability to store carbon.

Russia has also been an important participant in collaborative transnational research on wildlife and biodiversity issues. For example, to conserve migratory animals, researchers need to understand their movements. This makes it possible to identify and protect the animals’ main habitats.

Icarus, a collaborative research initiative to understand animal migration, relies on data sharing by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. This partnership has now been put on hold, leaving Icarus looking for another solution.

The war in Ukraine has also created a need for countries to prioritize a number of biodiversity conservation issues. For example, Russian attacks on Ukrainian farms and related infrastructure, and Russian naval blockades of grain exports, have contributed to global food shortages. In response, the European Union has sought to increase agricultural output by rolling back some of its biodiversity-friendly farming policies.

As long as the war in Ukraine lasts, we believe it is vital for other countries to step up their efforts to strengthen and expand the international system for biodiversity conservation in the rest of the world. In our view, this should happen even as governments support Ukraine’s valiant efforts to regain full control of all its territory, including its wetlands, forests and other important habitats occupied by Russian forces. at the moment.

Provided by An Comhrá

This article from The Conversation is republished under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The conversation

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