Do you have what it takes? To be the ultimate bird conservationist and to help a fairy Pitta Pitta Nympha (Vulnerable) successfully migrate from their Japanese breeding grounds into winter in Borneo? An exciting new board game called Fly-A-Way will help you figure it out – and help you understand the dangers faced by millions of migratory birds on their way along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.
Reportedly, Fly-A-Way is a competitive, family-friendly board game. Viewed from a different angle, however, it is an innovative environmental education tool that, thanks to advice from Ding Li Yong (BirdLife Flyways Coordinator – Asia), will bring protection messages to a whole new audience. “A game is an ideal way to connect people on a personal level with the complex issues of protecting biodiversity,” explains Simon Vincent, a game designer for Tuber, the editor of Fly-A-Way.
The players lead migratory bird species from wetlands, forests and free range habitats on their autumn migration south along the East Asian-Australasian flyway. This route stretches from Arctic Russia and North America to New Zealand, includes 37 countries and is used by more than 500 species of migratory birds. The staggering scale of bird movement includes fifty million water birds that flood along the coast and cross the seas.
Given the endurance required, migration is inherently risky. Natural obstacles like bad weather can mean disaster. But as the game makes clear, human activities are increasingly stacking the odds against successful migration. The United Nations has estimated that infrastructure could affect more than three-quarters of the Asia-Pacific land surface by 2032. Worrying signs are already widespread: almost two-thirds of waterfowl populations are declining and 80% of wetlands in East and Southeast Asia are at risk. Ten percent of the species that use the flight path are threatened worldwide.
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These are blatant messages that have to be conveyed in a playful way. As with the dramatic journeys of the birds, success in the game is far from easy. Migrants are hampered by a litany of real dangers under the guise of “fowl play” cards – “threats that BirdLife has identified as significant in Asia,” Yong points out. The game’s Great Bustard Otis tarda (Vulnerable) could lead the battle of the poachers, or the Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos could be hit by a plane.
To add another level of drama and urgency, the developers say the occasional “Bird-Tastrophe” cards encompass systemic, catastrophic threats like deforestation and overgrazing and affect all players at the same time. “The moral is that when it comes to the environment,” explains Vincent, “everyone is involved.”
The players counteract the multitude of threats from “Wing It” cards – and thus continue the migration. These include actual protective measures carried out by the BirdLife partnership. They range from a sustainable agricultural policy that can help free-range birds in agricultural landscapes to the generation of funds for nature conservation projects through public support. Such maps, Vincent argues, show that “it is not too late to take action to eliminate threats to the natural world.”
This is especially important for bird migrants, explains Yong. While the general public is familiar with large mammals, “many people in Asia are unaware of migratory birds, less of the fact that they travel so far and therefore connect continents, countries and people.”
In addition, there is “a large part of society, especially city dwellers, who are completely unaware of nature. Reaching them can be challenging, but many play board games. “
Yong sums up the drama of bird migration and conveys the urgency of bird protection: “We particularly hope that Fly-A-Way will reach young people in different Flyway countries and enable them to learn about Asia and its migratory birds in a playful way. “Could some players even become real” ultimate conservationists “inspired by the game?
Fly-A-Way has exceeded its goal on Kickstarter.com and is going into production. More information can be found at www.flyaway.sg