Kazakhstan Safeguards Lakes and Migratory Waterbirds

GENEVA, Switzerland, January 16, 2007 (ENS) - Kazakhstan has strengthened protection for a large lake system important to migrating waterbirds by acceding to the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the protection of wetlands.

Kazakhstan's first Ramsar site, the Tengiz and Korgalzhyn Lakes in Akmola Oblast, is a shallow lake system with a mix of fresh, salty and brackish water bodies characteristic of northern Kazakhstan. The lakes are situated in a flat steppe landscape and grass oceans covering the land to the horizon.

"Korgalzhyn and Tengiz Lakes are particularly important areas for migratory birds," said Valery Khrokov, president of Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan, ACBK, has been working towards Kazakhstan’s accession to the Convention.


Korgalzhyn Lakes from the air (Photo by Martin Lenk courtesy Ramsar)
"Accession to the Ramsar Convention will help us ensure that our efforts to conserve them fit into a global strategy for conserving wetland birds," said Khrokov.

The instrument of accession signed by Kazakhstan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Kassymzhomart Tokaev was received by the UNESCO Director-General on January 2, 2007. The Convention will enter into force for Kazakhstan on May 2, when the country will become the 154th Party to the treaty.

The Tengiz-Korgalzhyn Lake System was first designated a wetland of international importance by the former Soviet Union in October 1976. As re-defined by Kazakhstan's authorities, this protected site is now expanded.

It includes the nature reserve itself around the lakeshore area, roughly 259,000 hectares with about the same boundaries as the Soviet-era designation, plus a two kilometer buffer zone around it, for a total of 353,341 hectares.

The Tengiz-Korgalzhyn lakes have been a nature reserve since 1968, but the adjacent lake systems of the Tengiz lake basin have not been strictly protected and will be added as clusters to this nomination at a later stage.

An enormous number of migrating birds stop over in the region.

On the mud islands of Lake Tengiz the northernmost colony of greater flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber, reaches up to 14,000 breeding pairs.


Dalmatian pelicans, Pelicanus crispus (Photo courtesy Ege U. Birdwatching Society)
The Korgalzhyn Lakes harbor about 10 percent of the world population of the Dalmatian Pelican, Pelicanus crispus, with over 500 breeding pairs nesting in the vast reed beds.

White-headed ducks, Oxyura leucocephala, rest and breed at the fresh and brackish lakes. In autumn they can be observed in numbers of up to 4,000 birds in the protected area, representing 30 to 40 percent of the world population.

"Conserving migratory birds relies heavily on the involvement and commitment of all of the countries in which these birds reside," said Dave Pritchard, international treaties adviser at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which functions as BirdLife International in the UK.

"Kazakhstan has a huge wealth of wetland habitats. That they have joined Ramsar is great news for bird conservation in the region," Pritchard said.


The main breeding grounds of white-headed ducks like this one are thought to be in northern Kazakhstan and southern Russia. (Photo courtesy IUCN Threatened Waterfowl Specialist Group)
The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Governments that are Parties to the Convention designate wetlands for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

This means that the Convention is concerned with the management of entire river basins, not just with isolated sites.

A management plan for the the Tengiz and Korgalzhyn Lakes is under development under a project of the Global Environment Facility and the UN Development Programme office in the capital Astana.

There is an associated nature museum and visitors' center which attracts groups from Astana, but only scientific tourism and research is permitted. Tourism within the reserve itself, as distinct from that in the buffer zone, is not expected to increase.

The Ramsar Convention has become one of the most important global mechanisms for BirdLife partner organizations in their national work, said Pritchard. Many partners have contributed to the designation of Important Bird Areas as Wetlands of International Importance in their countries, he said, and many help to monitor these sites.