Using earth observation to determine distribution of suitable habitat for migratory shorebirds: a case study of Bahia Lomas Ramsar site.

Bahia Lomas Ramsar Site is a 150 km2 tidal flat in Tierra del Fuego, southern Chile (52°28’08″S, 69°22’54″W). The importance of the site has been recognized by the Chilean government, which declared Bahia Lomas as a protected area in January 2019. In particular, it is a key wintering site for many wading birds, including Red Knot, Calidris canutus..
Red Knot have suffered a severe global population decline (70% decrease in numbers between 1986 and 2008), possibly due to poor food supply (bivalves and polychaete worms) at their wintering sites. Distribution of Red Knot on their over-wintering grounds in South America have also contracted substantially with almost the entire population now confined to Tierra del Fuego. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the factors that may be driving such population changes, a suite of more advanced tools is required to support the development of more effective monitoring programmes and long-term ecological studies of these (and other shorebirds) and their benthic prey.

Catalysing the use of a variety of Earth Observation tools, but in particular satellite imagery from the Sentinel-2 mission, and that obtained from very-high resolution satellite imagery (e.g. World View 2), it could be possible to map and model suitable habitat types for these migratory birds and distribution of their main prey. This would enable cost-effective, long-term but remote monitoring of sites which are large in area and, due to their remoteness, notoriously difficult to access on a regular basis.

Combining the expertise of remote sensing specialists from AEOA partner JNCC with experts on the ecology of migratory shorebirds in Tierra del Fuego from AEOA partner University of Santo Tomás (UST) and the Bahia Lomas Research Centre, this project will use the Bahia Lomas wetlands site as a pilot study to test this hypothesis. If successful, options will be explored, through establishing a focus group of relevant stakeholders (Earth Observation specialists, migratory shorebird ecologists, land-managers), as to whether the tools developed in the pilot programme can be scaled up for use across other areas of the West Atlantic Flyway.

This is the inaugural project being run under the newly established AEOA. It will run between January to July 2020.


The overarching aim of this project is to determine how a range of available Earth Observation data can be used in conjunction with suitable field data sources to model habitat suitability for migratory shorebirds, by using Bahía Lomas as a pilot study, with recommendations on how to scale the work for Chile and beyond.

  • Create baseline habitat suitability models for the site using very high-resolution commercial satellite imagery.
  • Discover how data from Sentinel missions can be used to monitor the low and high tide margin, an important metric for monitoring condition of the site for migratory birds.
  • Develop recommendations for scaling up the work to other wetland sites across Chile (or beyond) to discover other suitable areas for migratory birds to stop over on the West Atlantic Flyway.

Project Contacts

  • Dr Paula Lightfoot -JNCC
  • Dr Gwawr Jones -JNCC
  • Dr Megan Tierney -JNCC
  • Dr Fabio Labra – UST
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