updated 3/12/2007 3:43:00 PM ET 2007-03-12T19:43:00

Worldwide efforts to protect endangered waterbirds are falling short as industrial and urban development eat away at their habitats, and hunting and pollution take their toll, according to a report released Monday.

"Despite global conservation efforts, waterbirds are being sidelined by economic development," according to three groups that edited "Waterbirds Around the World," which includes data covering 162 countries and 614 species.

In January, a global survey called the Waterbird Population Estimate found that 44 percent of the world's 900 waterbird species numbers have fallen in the past five years, while 34 percent were stable, and 17 percent were rising. In the last such survey in 2002, 41 percent of waterbird populations worldwide were found to be decreasing.

"Waterbirds Around the World" is based on papers presented at a 2004 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, and updated since then. It paints a picture of largely positive progress in Europe and North America, but ongoing problems in other parts of the world.

The report was presented by the Dutch and British governments, as well as the conservation group Wetlands International. It is backed by U.N. agencies and more than a dozen governments, including the United States.

In east and southeast Asia, rapid economic development "has led to land-claim, increased hunting and pollution," the book's editors said in a statement. "Too few species and their habitats are protected. Enforcement of protection is noticeably missing."

They cited a "shocking example" in South Korea where a land claim project on the shores of the Yellow Sea completed in April 2006 destroyed 155 square miles of intertidal mudflats that were a key wetland habitat for migratory waterbirds in Asia, including the endangered spoonbilled sandpiper and Nordmanns greenshank.

Britain's Minister for Biodiversity, Barry Gardiner, welcomed the book and said it underscored the need for countries to work together to protect waterbirds and their habitats.

"What we have to do is work with other countries to make sure that development in those countries is sustainable for them and for us," Gardiner said.

In Africa, pollution and urban development also are destroying wetlands and governments lack the knowledge to effectively protect them. However, U.N.-funded projects are under way in the continent to protect crucial sites along migration routes, according to the book, which was edited by the British government advisory panel, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Scottish National Heritage and Dutch-based Wetlands International.

In Europe and North America, where governments have been active for years in protecting wetlands on birds' migration routes, "good conservation progress has been made," the groups said.

In Central Asia, some governments are cooperating to protect wetlands along key migration routes, but in many other developing nations, the groups said, "conservation measures are still ... a low priority."

Taej Mundkur, of Wetlands International in South Asia, said the 940-page book was essential reading for conservationists. "If I could lift it and carry it around, I'd read it every day," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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