Tunisia Offers 15 Wetland Sites for Protection
DJERBA, Tunisia, November 30, 2004 (ENS) - The government of Tunisia has officially announced its commitment to designate at least 15 locations as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The designations mean that these North African wetlands, covering a total area of over 750,000 hectares (2,895 square miles), will be protected from development.
The official announcement was made by Tunisian Secretary of State for Water Resources and Fisheries Amol El Abed as part of his opening speech to the 11th Pan-African Ornithological Congress which took place in Djerba November 20 through 25.
Denis Landenbergue of WWF said at the conference that El Abed's announcement was made as a result of a project supported by WWF's Global Freshwater Programme.
It will be implemented in the framework of a close cooperation between WWF's Mediterreanean Programme Office and Tunis Project Office, the Direction Générale des Forêts of Tunisia, the Institut National Agronomique of University of Tunis, and nongovernmental organizations including the Association des Amis des Oiseaux, which is the Birdlife National Partner in Tunisia.
Mike Smart, former Ramsar deputy secretary general and a recognized specialist on the wetlands of Tunisia, has also been providing expertise and support to this initiative of the government of Tunisia.
The Pan African Ornithological Congress meets every four years in an African country. This year's theme was Birds Crossing Borders - Linking People and Habitats, and one of four themes of the meeting was water bird movements and distribution.
“This is an important milestone for wetland conservation in Tunisia," said Faouzi Maamouri, head of the WWF Tunis Project office. "The next step is for Ramsar to evaluate the sites in order to designate them as wetlands of international importance."
The wetlands to be protected include salt lakes, swamps, peat bogs, dunes, karstic caves, oases, and lagoons, and harbor some 85 aquatic plant species.
Tunisia's wetland environment attracts up to a half a million birds each year, and supports 350,000 individuals of 33 species of sandpipers alone, WWF says.
During the migratory season, Tunisian wetlands host 250,000 ducks, which make up 58 percent of the Maghreb's total population.
In addition, 25,000 flamingos that form a third of the Mediterranean population migrate to Tunisia.
Tunisian wetlands provide thousands of families with income from fishing and shellfish collection.
Lake Ichkeul, the only Ramsar site now found in the country, provides 150 to 200 tons of fish a year, while the Ghar el Melah lagoon provides 80 tons. Thousands of tourists visit the Korba lagoon, Lake Ichkeul, and the salt lakes of Thyna and Monastir each year.
However, the country's wetlands are threatened by pollution, unplanned development, and agriculture. It is estimated that Tunisia has lost 28 percent of its wetlands in a little over a century, mainly as a result of drainage, while urbanization accounts for the loss of over 3,300 hectares of wetlands each year.
In addition, 27 percent of Tunisia’s lakes and marshes, and 21 percent of its rivers are polluted, according to WWF-Mediterranean.
The Tunisian government’s announcement to increase the number and area of wetlands protected under Ramsar is a result of WWF’s collaboration with the country's Forest Department. In his speech, El Abed acknowledged WWF’s role and mentioned a willingness to protect more wetlands and to design a national strategy for them.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, signed in 1971 in the city of Ramsar, Iran, is a treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
There are currently 141 Parties to the Convention, with 1,387 wetland sites, totaling over 122 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
Member countries are obliged to manage all wetlands in a sustainable manner, promoting the wise use of all wetlands within their territory. They must consult with other Parties about the implementation of the Convention, especially with regard to trans-frontier wetlands, shared water systems, shared species, and development.
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