AMBI; the Arctic Migratory Bird Initiative

Recently I have started working on a new project, the Arctic Migratory Bird Initiative (AMBI). AMBI is a project under the Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) working group. As I wrap up my PhD, this opportunity came up and at first I thought that I couldn’t possibly take this on, but was convinced by a friend that I should at least apply. Well, several months later, and I now have a 20% position dedicated to working on Canada’s AMBI projects.

For the purpose of AMBI, the world has been separated into four flyways that Arctic migratory birds utilize. This is a bit simplistic, but works well for this purpose. Below you can see the Americas Flyway (in blue), the African-Eurasian Flyway (in tan), the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (in green) and the Cirumpolar Flyway (in brown). The first three have been recognized for many decades as important paths for migratory birds, and the circumpolar flyway was identified under AMBI as important to consider in and upon itself as a number of species stay in the Arctic/Sub-Arctic region all year.

AMBI Flyway maps

AMBI working flyways

I am involved in two of the flyways. While the Circumpolar flyway’s priorities deals mostly with seabirds, a group that I am pretty comfortable working with, the Americas flyway’s priorities focus on shorebirds, a group that I have always loved, but don’t have much experience on. For both flyways I am learning quickly on my feet as I join the ongoing project and team that have already been working on this for the last 2 years.

AMBI is exciting for a number of reasons, but here are a few that I think make AMBI particularly exciting. First, AMBI is the first project lead by CAFF that has actions outside of the Arctic region. This has a few benefits. Importantly, AMBI recognizes that to really protect Arctic migratory birds, in most cases you need to think about conservation all along the flyways. For example, you must protect critical habitat on the breeding grounds (in the Arctic), in the wintering grounds (for some this means regions of South America), and at points in between (for shorebirds this means intertial habitats along eastern North America). This is a true flyway approach to conservation. Because AMBI has actions along the flyways, it also provides an opportunity for Arctic Council observers (see here for a list) to be part of an international conservation program that benefits biodiversity in all regions. In essence, this means that conservation projects such as AMBI, that have been approved at a high political level, can be used to help rally groups and countries to action because of the connection to the Arctic Council. This may not seem important, but when working with biodiversity conservation, any little bit helps.

Second, most of AMBI priorities aim to harness the energy and knowledge of the international community to protect and conserve Arctic species that have a a distribution sometimes across as many as 20 nations. This can happen at both the large and small scale. First, because it is an Arctic Council project under CAFF, AMBI can, and has, get the attention of departments often outside the environment sphere, and can leverage support from a variety of resources to help achieve its goals which are often much more than just birds. Second, the real benefit of working with migratory birds, everyone knows what a bird is, and even if a species is only in your backyard (both figuratively and literally) most people seen it as ‘our’ birds. With this in mind, AMBI aims to take on the ground conservation actions in multiple regions that benefit both people and birds.

I hope to write more about AMBI in the coming months. We just had an AMBI Steering Group and Implementation meetings in Texel, the Netherlands, hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (a great demonstration of how Arctic Observer countries can support the program, and how AMBI can gather support from departments not necessarily often working on biodiversity issues). Both Arctic Council countries and observers participated with the aim to plan the next steps in the African-Eurasian and East Asian Australasian flyways.

Meeting on Texel

At each step I am learning more about both on the ground conservation work, and how research findings eventually weave their way into helping to shape priorities and eventually conservation policy. I hope that I can keep learning, and keep incorporating this into my own work on conservation issues. So far the biggest lesson, even in areas where we know a lot, there is still much to be done, both in terms of research and how policy reflects these findings.

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