International recognition for Christchurch’s Avon-Heathcote Ihutai Estuary

The Christchurch home of the bar-tailed godwit/kuaka has joined an exclusive list of wetlands making up the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) network.

The Department of Conservation has been working with the Avon-Heathcote Estuary/Ihutai Trust for the last two years to have the estuary recognised internationally by the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership says Conservation Minister, Eugenie Sage.

“The estuary has a vital role in supporting migratory waders and shorebirds.  Its new status emphasises the need to protect this habitat as a safe haven for bar-tailed godwits, lesser knots/huahou, and other shorebirds such as the endemic South Island pied oystercatcher/torea.

“It’s a fantastic achievement for the Avon-Heathcote Estuary/Ihutai Trust for the estuary to now be internationally recognised as part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway,” Eugenie Sage said.

The EAAF is the series of wetlands used by migratory waders and shore birds, including in their annual migrations. It includes wetland breeding grounds within the Arctic Circle, through East and South-east Asia, to non-breeding areas in South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. During the birds’ time in Christchurch during our summer they forage in the estuary and put on enough weight to support them on their flight northwards.

Over the last six weeks around 1000 godwits/kuaka have arrived back in the Avon-Heathcote Ihutai estuary after their annual non-stop 11,000-kilometre flight from Alaska.

As a result of habitat loss in the Yellow Sea Region, bar-tailed godwits are declining at an annual rate of 2%. The species is classified as ‘Declining’ in New Zealand.

“With the estuary at Christchurch’s front door and birds easily visible feeding and roosting at a range of sites, it’s easy for residents and visitors to enjoy and understand the estuary’s international significance,” Eugenie Sage said

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