Hong Kong and Mainland China Conservation Groups Joined Hands to Protect the World's Rarest Bird: Chinese Crested Tern Numbers Broke Records

Joint Press release by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, BirdLife International

and Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong

Hong Kong and Mainland China conservation groups joined hands to protect the world’s rarest bird:

Chinese Crested Tern numbers broke records

Hong Kong experts guarded on deserted island and initiated study on the bird’s migratory route

(13th August, 2015 – Hong Kong) The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, together with BirdLife International and Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong (OPCFHK) proudly announced the success of the first colour banding project at the Jiushan Islands, Zhejiang Province, which aims to aid conservation of the critically endangered Chinese Crested Terns. The Jiushan Islands have undergone a third and even more successful breeding season than the last two years: at least 52 Chinese crested terns arrived and stayed on one of the Jiushan Islands, Tiedun Dao during this breeding season. These birds were attracted by the decoys and sound playback system as in 2013 and 2014. At least 25 breeding pairs have formed. In addition, 2015 is also the first year where all three known breeding sites: the Jiushan Islands and the Wuzhishan Islands of Zhejiang, and the Mazu Islands along the coast of Fujian Province have successful breeding records, as compared to only the Jiushan Islands in 2014.

Chinese crested terns, a "Critically Endangered" bird species listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, were assumed extinct for six decades. This legendary bird was rediscovered at the Mazu Islands along the coast of Fujian Province in 2000, and one new colony was discovered in 2004 at the Jiushan Islands, Xiangshan County of Zhejiang Province. It remains one of the most threatened seabirds in the world, with an estimated population of less than 100 individuals (raised from less than 50 in 2014) and at only three known breeding sites.

2015 is the second year that breeding birds on Tiedun Dao were being monitored throughout the season. Mr. Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Officer of BirdLife Asia Division stayed from early May to early August to monitor the population and record the behaviour of the breeding birds, even when Typhoon Chan-hom nearly hit Tiedun Dao directly in mid-July. The vegetation acted as shelters at the breeding colony, thus enabling a 95% tern chick survival rate during the typhoon. Together with the continuous monitoring and vigilance effort, this resulted in a growing number of young Chinese crested tern fledged: from just one individual in 2013, to no less than 13 and 16 young terns in 2014 and 2015 respectively. On August 4, about 20 experts from China and the USA banded 31 crested terns with numbered colour bands. This will enable identification of individuals if the terns are seen again in their wintering grounds.

“The restoration project aims not only to conserve Chinese crested tern, but also restore the depleted seabird population along the coasts of China. At the same time, we aim to encourage cooperation between China and other countries in Asia for joint actions in seabird study and conservation,” added Mr. Simba Chan. “Thanks to OPCFHK’s funding, we will work with Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia) on promoting awareness at potential wintering sites for recovery records of these birds in late 2015. Suitable transmitters are being considered for tracking the migration of the Chinese and greater crested terns in the coming years to reveal their migratory route.”

OPCFHK Foundation Director Ms. Suzanne Gendron said, “The Foundation has been supporting the conservation works on Chinese crested tern since 2008. We are excited to know that after years of efforts, there is a higher hope for the recovery of this critically endangered species. In 2015/16 financial year, we are providing three years of support to BirdLife International, to enable continuous monitoring of the breeding grounds in the Jiushan Islands, and starting a new study on the migration of Chinese crested terns and surveys of potential wintering sites in eastern Indonesia. We also sponsored three university students in 2014 and 2015 to join Mr. Simba Chan in the field for two weeks, which has proved to be a once-in-a-life-time experience to witness this significant milestone of seabird conservation in China, and will hopefully lead to new young scientists to join this important work.”

This project was only made possible with the generous support of the Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau, the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, Endangered Species Fund from the State Forestry Administration of China, the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong, the Japan Fund for Global Environment, Pacific Seabird Group and BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme supporter - Mark Constantine. Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau and the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History also provided significant logistical support which helped make the project such a resounding success. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (Wildlife Without Borders) supported the project by providing decoys and playback equipment needed for social attraction.