Ramsar Conference 2012
Protecting water for people and nature
(Fun Fact: Ramsar is not another conservation acronym! It’s the city in Iran where the convention was signed in 1971.)
Pristine reefs in the Coral Triangle. Endangered gorilla habitat in the African Rift Valley. High altitude wetlands in the Himalayas. World's largest wetland, South America's Pantanal. These are among the 2,040 Ramsar sites that cover more than 193 million hectares.
Some Ramsar sites are in protected areas. But many are “working wetlands,” where people live, fish, grow food and transport goods. One of the key elements of Ramsar’s mission is to ensure the “wise use” of wetlands for sustainable development.
This will be a central theme of the meeting in Bucharest, under the theme "Wetlands: home and destination". A resolution encouraging integration of wetlands in sustainable tourism policies is up for approval by the member states.
Wise use in Virunga
Tourism could play an important role in the survival of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park – Africa’s oldest national park. Home to critically endangered mountain gorillas and some 200 other mammal species, the park is both a UNESCO World Heritage site and a Ramsar site.
Yet today, this pristine wilderness is under threat from oil companies. WWF is calling on oil companies SOCO, Total and Ophir Energy to obey Congolese law and cease oil exploration in Virunga. We are also reminding DCR and the companies’ home countries of UK, France and South Africa that, as members of Ramsar, they have agreed not to allow oil extraction from wetlands of international importance.
Partners for wetland conservation
Fortunately, many businesses are realizing that healthy freshwater ecosystems are essential to their long-term viability. Companies like Coca-Cola and Lafarge are working with WWF to protect spectacular Ramsar sites around the world.
Viet Nam’s Tram Chim National Park was once part of a vast wetland ecosystem called the Plain of Reeds. Today, the system is fragmented, and the great variety of fish and plants that once thrived here are found only in protected pockets like Tram Chim. Coca-Cola, WWF and park authorities have established Sustainable Resource User Groups, allowing communities to harvest firewood, fish, eels, grasses, vegetables and other products from within the park’s boundaries. Group members are now more aware of how conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources will help ensure that wetlands nourish their families for generations to come.
Lafarge in Romania and WWF developed a project to re-establish biodiversity in and around the Fusea-Mătăsaru aggregates quarry. The site is in the floodplain of the Arges River, a major tributary of the Danube. This project is helping nature recover its previous features and minimize the pools and banks left after the aggregates were extracted. Activities include planting 15,000 trees, controlling invasive plant species and creating an island habitat for swans, grey herons and egrets.
The Danube: “Europe’s Amazon”
This Ramsar Conference of Parties is being held in Romania, one of 19 nations touched by the Danube as it travels 2,800 kilometres from the Black Forest of Germany to the Black Sea.
The river and its Ramsar sites touch millions of lives – including those of WWF staff who are committed to restoring and maintaining the Danube’s diverse ecosystems.
The Fusea project showed us all how fragile wetlands are. But we could also see how fast sand and gravel quarries can be rehabilitated if the appropriate measures are implemented.