BANGKOK - Nearly half of the world's waterbird species are in decline, mostly because of rapid economic development and the effects of climate change, according to a global survey released Tuesday.

The fourth Waterbird Population Estimate found that 44 per cent of the 900 species globally have fallen in the past five years, while 34 per cent were stable, and 17 per cent rising.

The numbers were slightly worse in the last survey in 2002, when 41 per cent of waterbird populations worldwide were found to be decreasing.

The worst decreases occurred in Asia, where 62 per cent of the waterbird populations had seen declines or become extinct. That was followed by 48 per cent in Africa, 45 per cent in Oceania, 42 per cent in South America, 41 per cent in Europe and 37 per cent in North America.

Altogether, 12 families of birds have half or more of their global populations showing a decreasing trend, including storks, shoebills and plovers, the survey found.

In Asia, the spoon-billed sandpiper and long-billed plover populations were found to be falling while the yellow bittern numbers rose.

In North America, the king rail population were found to be declining while the American white pelican populations rose. The ferruginious duck numbers fell in Europe while the great cormorant population increased.

Simon Delany, a waterbird conservation officer for Netherlands-based Wetlands International which co-ordinated the survey, said the cause of the decline was a loss of wetlands either from economic and agriculture development, or rising temperatures blamed for worsening droughts and rising sea levels.

The survey represents about 50,000 hours of field work done in 100 countries.

"The most frequent known cause of population decrease is habitat destruction, often caused by unsustainable human activity," Mr. Delany told The Associated Press.

"The frantic pace of economic development is clearly having adverse impacts on the environment, including numbers and population trends of waterbirds," he said. "Human impacts such as urban sprawl, reclamation of wetlands, increase of pollution and hunting pressure can develop rapidly and conservation considerations are often not taken into account."

Darters, screamers, rails, finfoots, jacanas, painted-snipes, stone curlews, seedsnipes and skimmers were other species that have gone into decline, the report said.

Delany said the threats are especially visible in Asia, where mangroves are being destroyed to make way for shrimp and fish farms and wetlands are increasingly being reclaimed for tourist resorts and industry.

South Korea, for example, has converted about half the country's 400,000 hectares of tidal flats for commercial purposes while China has taken half its mangrove forests since 1949 for land reclamation and aquaculture.

"Land reclamation is simply removing huge areas of wetlands which means very large number of birds and other species have nowhere to live," Mr. Delany said. "Many of these birds are long distance migrants so they need these places to feed. If there is nothing available for them, they can't survive."