Wetlands Awards Honor Pioneers in Australia, China, Iran, Japan

KAMPALA, Uganda, November 8, 2005 (ENS) - The world's wetlands are conserved under an international treaty signed 34 years ago in Ramsar, Iran and known as the Ramsar Convention. Representatives of the 147 countries that have signed on to the treaty opened their ninth triennial meeting today in Kampala by presenting awards to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to wetland and water resources conservation.

In the Management category, this year's award was presented to Dr. Sh.A. Nezami Baloochi from the Department of the Environment of the Province of Gilan, Iran. He is being honored for his role in the establishment of a conservation and wise use plan for the 15,000 hectare Anzali Wetland Ramsar Site, designated in 1975 as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.


Iran's Anzali Wetland Ramsar Site on the southwest coast of the Caspian Sea in the province of Gilan is fed by rivers that arise in the mountains of Talesh. (Photo courtesy Ramsar Secretariat)
The Anzali wetland has been threatened by pressures including eutrophication, deforestation, erosion, unsustainable hunting and inappropriate tourism, road and urban development.

The Ramsar record listed Anzali as threatened in 1993 owing to changes in the water levels and increased nutrients from activities in the water catchment basin outside the Ramsar Site.

Bringing in donor funds to support and increase local capacity, Dr. Nezami has helped to create protected areas, as well as education and public awareness initiatives. He participated in creating the first Wetland Education Centre in Iran and in the establishment of a National History Museum.

He has successfully opposed development and military use of the Anzali wetland, and he has battled illegal fishing and smuggling there.

The Ramsar Secretariat called Dr. Nezami's achievements in safeguarding the Anzali wetland "an exemplary success story of reversing the deterioration of wetlands and their services by improved management, increased public awareness and local communities' involvement."

In the Science category, the Ramsar award was presented to Professor Shuming Cai of China.

A member of the Chinese Academy of Science, Professor Cai is being recognized for his research studies on the Yangtze River, as well as for his in-depth research on the effects of the Three Gorges Dam project on the environment. His work on the assessment and mitigation of natural disasters such as the floods and water logging in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River has been particularly valuable, the Ramsar Secretariat says.


Professor Shuming Cai is the winner of the Ramsar Science Award. (Photo courtesy Ramsar Secretariat)
Professor Cai calls the Yangtze River "the most important water resource of China and its runoff accounts for 35 percent of the whole water amount in China."

Twice a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress, Professor Cai has used his scientific achievements to reach practical results for wetland conservation, defending the idea that "wetlands are closely linked to human survival and development."

With more than 120 publications, Professor Cai's work has provided a basis for the formulation of laws, regulations and management policies in China, as well as contributing to international projects with Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In the Education category, the Ramsar award is shared this year between an individual, Reiko Nakamura of Japan, and an organization, The Wetlands Centre, Australia.

An environmental journalist, Nakamura created the Ramsar Centre Japan in 1990 as a vehicle for fostering wetland conservation, and now the nongovernmental organization has grown to cover 12 countries in Asia.


Reiko Nakamura is the winner of the Ramsar Education Award. (Photo courtesy Ramsar Secretariat)
She has been successful in raising funds to carry out long-term activities, such as the Asian Wetland Week, the Asian Wetland Initiative, and the Asian Wetland Symposium, popular projects which have played an important role in creating a bridge between Asian countries for the conservation of wetlands.

Nakamura stresses that "promotion of the conservation of all wetlands, whether they are on the [Ramsar] List or not will be of paramount importance."

The Wetlands Centre in New South Wales, Australia's Hunter Valley is being recognized for its pioneer role in the use of Ramsar's Communications, Education, and Public Awareness (CEPA) activities to achieve restoration and management, first of the Hunter Estuary Wetlands, and then expanding its activities and forging links with other centers throughout Australia.

Through volunteer work and partnerships, The Wetlands Centre has grown from the management of one site until it now contributes to a national approach to wetland education and is now an advisor to the Australian government on wetlands and Ramsar matters.

The Shortland Wetlands complex on which the Wetlands Centre is located includes coastal freshwater lagoons and marshes and non-tidal freshwater forested wetlands. The site has benefited from a continuous management regime which has guided the creation of artificial wetlands and rehabilitation of degraded wetlands over 17 years since the Wetlands Centre began to manage the site.

Shortland Wetlands are recognized nationally under the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia and are being nominated as wetlands of international significance under the Ramsar Convention.


A birding group explores the Shortland Wetlands in New South Wales' Hunter Valley. (Photo courtesy The Wetlands Centre)
The wetlands are important for a high diversity and abundance of birds, some of which are threatened species, and also for frogs, invertebrates and fish. The close proximity and ecological connections with Hexham Swamp, Kooragang Nature Reserve and the Hunter Estuary facilitate the movement of birds and other wetland fauna throughout the area.

The Wetlands Centre hosts many individuals, families, and birding groups. Chair Christine Prietto says "providing a direct wetland experience is the most powerful tool for improving people's understanding of the values and functions of wetlands."

Building on the "great positive energy" brought on by the Ramsar Award, Prietto says The Wetlands Centre will use the prize as a catalyst to increase awareness of Ramsar, at local, state and national level, as well as internationally.

Winners of the Ramsar Award 2005 receive a cash award, the Evian Special Prize, contributed by the Evian Initiative of the Danone Group.

The 2005 laureates will also receive a jewel created by jeweller Gilbert Albert of Switzerland, and the Ramsar trophy created by sculptress Verena Darmon.

The Danone/Evian Fund for water is a partnership between the Ramsar Convention and Groupe Danone that supports the Ramsar Convention in taking action for wise use of water resources and maintenance of their quality.

All this week, Ramsar member countries and observers will assess the progress of the Convention and wetland conservation to date, share knowledge and experience on technical issues, and plan their own and the Secretariat's work for the next three years.