Unique Wetlands Conserved on World Wetlands Day 2005

GLAND, Switzerland, February 2, 2005 (ENS) - World Wetlands Day, celebrated on February 2 each year, marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. This year is the beginning of a 10 year cycle - an International Decade of Water - that will be launched on World Water Day March 23.

From the Convention's headquarters in Gland, Ramsar Secretary General Peter Bridgewater said, "This year we are featuring the critical link between cultural and biological diversities. Many of the world's wetlands owe their existence and continued vitality to cultural practices, or are conserved because of cultural needs. Maintenance of biological diversity in wetlands is often closely linked with the lives and beliefs of people."

"Of course, the other side of the coin is that people can misuse wetlands and cause loss and damage to the biological diversity - and at the same time to cultural diversity," Bridgewater said.

The theme of World Wetlands Day 2005 is "There’s wealth in wetland diversity- don’t lose it!"

In honor of this special day, several countries have designated Wetlands of International Importance to be protected under the Ramsar Convention.

The government of the Secretariat's host country, Switzerland, has designated three valuable and scenic Wetlands of International Importance as part of its celebration of World Wetlands Day.

Laubersmad-Salwidili is a subalpine area of transitional and raised bogs on the northern slopes of the Alps, in the north-central canton of Lucerne, and is part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve "Entlebuch."

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The Rhône Glacier and alpine wetland below, newly protected under the Ramsar Convention. (Photo by Tobias Salathé courtesy Ramsar) )
The Rhonegletschervorfeld consists of the alpine region around the tongue of the Rhône glacier, the source of the Rhône River.

The third Swiss wetland designated this year is Vadret da Roseg, which includes the alpine alluvial zone at the outflow of two glaciers in the far east of the country. Switzerland now has 11 Ramsar sites totaling 8,676 hectares.

China has named nine new Ramsar sites for World Wetlands Day 2005 with a surface area of nearly 400,000 hectares. One of them, Shuangtai Estuary on the Liao River in northeastern China, makes up part of what has been called "the world's largest reed bed," the Secretariat said.

The other eight new Ramsar sites are all in Qinghai and Yunnan Provinces and in the Tibet Autonomous Region and are all high-altitude marshes and lakes, one as high as 6,500 meters, among the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow, and Yalu Tsangpo/Brahmaputra Rivers.

All of these sites have important hydrological functions, both locally and downstream, and all are valuable sites for migratory birds, including the endangered Black-necked Crane, Grus nigricollis.

Because of the relative isolation of the sites, some of them have high levels of endemism, particularly with fish species, and they are vital sources of livelihood for the populations nearby.

These new mountain designations have been made as part of China's efforts in the "Wetland Conservation and Wise Use in the Himalayan High Mountains," which is an international initiative by WWF, the Ramsar Convention Secretariat and related neighborhood countries including China.

"This move will help safeguard the freshwater source of Asia’s most important rivers. We congratulate the government of China for its commitment to protecting these crucial areas for people, wildlife and water," said Jim Harkness, country representative of WWF China, which assisted in the designation of the new Ramsar Sites.

Due to the area’s high elevation, the ecosystem in this region is extremely fragile, and once damaged, is almost impossible to restore, says Harkness. Over the last several decades, China’s rapidly growing economy and population have been the root causes of degradation in this area including shrinking wetlands, destroyed vegetation, a higher snowline, and receding glacier. Planned hydropower stations, dams, roads, bridges, and tourism infrastructure such as hotels are all potential threats to nature here.

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Black necked cranes on wetlands at the foot of Mount Kailash, Tibetan Plateau. (Photo by Jaime McGuiness courtesy Project Himalaya) )
One of the nine newly protected sites is Mapangyong Cuo, one of the highest elevation freshwater wetlands in the world. It encompasses the Mapangyong and Laang Lakes and their surrounding swamps and rivers, and is a source of the Yalu Tsangpo/Brahmaputra River. A spawning and survival habitat for Tibetan plateau endemic fish species, the site supports large populations of black-necked crane and the chiru or Tibetan antelope, Pantholops hodgsoni.

The lake, situated beside the holy mountain Kang Rinpoche, or Mount Kailash, is a holy place in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism and attracts hundreds of devotees and tourists every year.

To read descriptions of the nine new sites designated by China, log on to: http://ramsar.org/w.n.china_nine.htm

Following the high profile events of World Wetlands Day last year when Mexico protected 34 wetlands, this year Mexico continues to increase its number of Ramsar sites by adding four more to the List of Wetlands of International Importance.

The new designations are a dune slack complex in the city of Veracruz, a national park on the island of Cozumel in the Caribbean, and a coastal lagoon and a mountain lakeshore in Michoacán state, where the country's World Wetlands Day celebrations will be focused this year. Mexico now has 55 Ramsar sites with a surface area of 5,115,393 hectares.

The United States is celebrating World Wetlands Day 2005 by designating two Wetlands of International Importance in California - the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (TRNERR) and Grasslands Ecological Area.

The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve is one of the few unfragmented estuaries in the southern part of the state and is located at the very southwestern corner of the country on the border with Mexico.

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The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (Photo courtesy NOAA) )
Grasslands Ecological Area is the largest remaining freshwater wetland complex in the state and is renowned for its very large congregations of wintering waterfowl and shorebirds.

The United States now has 21 Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area totaling 1,258,751 hectares.

Wetland birds across Australia have been hard hit by drought, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said today.

Marking World Wetlands Day with the launch of a new report "The State of Australia's Birds 2004: Water, Wetlands and Birds" at the Western Australian Wetlands Management Conference at Bibra Lake, Campbell said, “Many of our major wetlands are in trouble, and their decline spells trouble for water birds."

“This report by Birds Australia, supported by the Natural Heritage Trust, highlights how species like the nationally threatened Australian Painted Snipe depend on a network of wetlands to survive," said the minister. “This report provides vital information for us to better target conservation efforts and funding."

“Protecting water birds means conserving and protecting their habitat, which is why I am pleased to announce further funding of A$60,000 today for the Peel-Harvey System," he said. "The system is part of Western Australia's Peel-Yalgorup Ramsar wetland - a vital area that supports more than 20,000 waterbirds.”

A link to the report is available online at www.deh.gov.au/water/wetlands/day.

In New Zealand, last Saturday was the first celebration of World Wetlands Day 2005, marked with a trip to Waituna organized by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Waituna gained international importance in 1976 when it became New Zealand’s first Ramsar site.

“Wetlands provide an important wildlife refuge, but are generally undervalued and are under threat from pressures including, drainage, agricultural run-off, reclamation, fire and the introduction of weed species” said the DOC's Philippa Humm. “Ninety percent of New Zealand's wetlands have gone, but we are really lucky to have some in Southland and we should not take them for granted. They provide a unique natural heritage and public space to enjoy.”

Next Sunday the National Wetland Trust of New Zealand, Auckland/Waikato Fish & Game Council and the DOC are sponsoring a field trip to three different wetlands and a visit to Rangiriri to the site of the planned National Wetland Centre.

The trip goes to Lake Kaituna at Horsham Downs south of Hamilton to see a restored wetland near one of the peat lakes; it continues to Kimihia, a wetland fed by water from Huntly East Coalmine, to look at a constructed wetland with high conservation values; and finishes at Opuatia to see a bog wetland in good condition.

In Japan, conservation groups led by the Japan Wetland Action Network (JAWAN) organized a Wetland Week in Japan, prior to 2005 World Wetland Day.

Dr. Peter Baye, a wetland restoration expert from the United States, and Dr. Satoshi Kobayashi, a former Ramsar Secretariat member, visited several coastal wetlands in Japan from January 22 to 31.

The local fishermen's association in Tokyo Bay took everyone on a boat trip, starting from a harbor near Sanbanze, an intertidal flat with shallow waters. There were large landfill projects planned for the area, but these projects were canceled because the new Governor of Chiba Prefecture Akiko Domoto had pledged to cancel them during her election campaign. The governor has established a committee to consider how to restore the area.

Isahaya

Isahaya Bay as it was in 1997 before gates were constructed that closed it off from the sea. (Photo courtesy Kristen Rahn) )
A highlight of the week was a trip to Isahaya Bay where the largest land reclamation project in Japan, replacing the largest mudflat area in Japan, is 94 percent complete. JAWAN organized a symposium there, inviting local fishermen to investigate the Isahaya reclamation project.

The Saga Prefecture Court has recently ordered the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to halt the reclamation project, reasoning that the reclamation project has had negative effects on the overall productivity of the whole Ariake Sea and caused many local fishermen to suffer from the radical decline especially in shellfish catches.

Citizens, conservation groups members and fishermen asked Dr. Baye whether it is still feasible to restore coastal wetlands at Isahaya even at this stage. Baye replied that it has often proven feasible to successfully restore tidal wetlands after they have been diked, even after severe ecological damage.

In South Africa, the national celebration of World Wetlands Day 2005 takes place at the swamp near Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal. The swamp, which extends for over 500 hectares adjacent to the Pholela River, is one of the priority wetlands of KwaZulu-Natal. Not only is the area scenically beautiful, but the wetland is rich both from a biodiversity and cultural perspective. It supports a diversity of plants and animals, including breeding crowned cranes.

The wetland provides an economically important sedge called incema, Cyperus marginatus, which is used by local crafters to weave a variety of traditional items such as beer strainers and sleeping mats.

Uganda will be busy all year preparing to host the 9th Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention that will take place in November 7 through 15, 2005 in the capital, Kampala. The Parties will seek a global strategy for the sustainable use of wetlands to ensure water for the ecosystems and for people.

Uganda's wetlands are threatened by converions to agriculture and settlement. The destruction is most rampant in urban areas and the rural areas are slowly undergoing reclamation due to growing of paddy rice.

The government's Wetlands Inspection Division has put in place a 10 year Wetlands Strategic Plan to promote the wise use of wetlands, and wetlands have been included in the national plan to eradicate poverty.

The Ramsar convention in November will raise profile of Uganda's efforts to preserve its wetlands. The Ramsar Secretariat says the conference will improve Uganda's image locally and abroad through publicity associated with the event.

Uganda's developing position as a prime travel destination for ecotourism and research will be enhanced. The Secretariat says Uganda will be assisted in mobilizing resources for implementation of its Wetlands Strategic Plan.

For more about World Wetlands Day, visit the Ramsar Secretariat at: http://www.ramsar.org/wwd2005_index.htm