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How Russia’s war on Ukraine harms wildlife conservation

Spoon-billed Sandpiper, war
A program to help the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper has been halted due to the war. Photo by Butterfly Hunter/Shutterstock

The war in Ukraine and the international isolation of Russia has harmed biodiversity conservation, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Conservation Science. The international study was co-authored by a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researcher.

Conservationists who monitor migratory species, such as the kohalā (humpback whale) and kōlea (Pacific Golden-Plover), must rely on a worldwide network of like-minded scientists, governments, and organizations to collect wildlife data; however, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made research difficult.

“The exchange of knowledge is impacted since international scientific partnerships no longer have the input of Russian funding or Russian expertise — and vice versa,” said Melissa Price, an assistant professor in the UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

“Collaborative projects are on hold, such as in the Arctic as well as a number of studies on migratory birds, whales, and other species that spend part of their time in waters off the coast of Siberia, other times moving across the Pacific Ocean to the tropics or North American continent. It’s also impacting the lives of exchange students, post-doctoral fellows and visiting researchers.”


Price participated in the study as then-chair of the Global Policy Committee of the Society for Conservation Biology, an international organization dedicated to advancing science and practice of conserving Earth’s biological diversity. She is especially concerned about the far-reaching consequences for nature conservation, such as loss of habitats and species extinctions.

Impacts on biodiversity research

As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, satellite tracking of animals through the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS), a global monitoring system for animals, has been disrupted. ICARUS relied on the Russian space agency, which ended data sharing on March 3, 2022.

“We think of war as a political action, but it has huge biodiversity implications,” Price said. “When species move between arctic and tropical waters, we require large international alliances to track, study, and conserve them.”


Russia’s isolation has also disrupted ongoing environmental negotiations, delayed international cooperation on environmental matters and abruptly changed international and domestic policy priorities, according to the study.

Distribution of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and aviary facilities for the head-starting program in the tundra (inset). Shaded areas in blue indicate the non-breeding grounds (Southeast Asia), shaded areas in orange indicate the breeding grounds (Northeast Russia), and the pink arrows indicates the approximate migratory route. Map: EAAFP Secretariat; illustration of Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok; photo of aviary facilities: Sayam U. Chowdhury. Image credit: Gallo-Cajiao et al (2023).

Spoon-billed Sandpiper recovery halted

The Russian suspension from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications system has limited international assistance for migratory species conservation projects in Russia, which have halted ongoing on-the-ground efforts for many threatened species that breed in Russia’s Far East and migrate to Southeast and South Asia.

Case in point: the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of the world’s most endangered shorebirds, with a population of fewer than 300 adults. The species breeds in Russia’s Far East and winters in Southeast Asia. According to the journal article:

“In order to halt the rapid population decline, a head-starting program was initiated in Chukotka, Russia, in 2012 which involved collection of eggs from wild nests, hatching the eggs in captivity, hand-rearing and releasing the birds back into the tundra after three weeks. Between 2012–2021, a total of 237 juvenile Spoon-billed Sandpipers were released in the wild under this program. The head-starting program has been a pivotal component of conservation efforts for this species and is considered to have slowed down population declines. The current isolation of Russia has already halted this program because of barriers for travel of collaborators from other countries, as well as to sending international funds to Russia on which this effort depends.”


Additionally, food security for humans has taken precedence, forcing the European Union to relax biodiversity conservation policies in order to intensify agricultural efforts and address food shortages.

“Ultimately, how the war may affect other institutional arrangements beyond those we have showcased here, how international cooperation may continue amidst the war, how cooperation may be restored wherever lost, and what measurable impacts on the ground the war can have beyond Ukraine due to shocks to governance, remain matters warranting scholarly attention,” wrote the international team of authors for the article.

Thanks to the University of Hawaii at Manoa for providing this news.

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