Massive wetland in Ecuador protected at last
Measuring a massive 770,000 hectares, the new Wetland Protected Area (WPA) is nearly three times larger than Ecuador’s other 19 Ramsar sites combined – increasing the total area under Ramsar protection to over 1 million hectares.
“This is a big win for wetlands conservation in Ecuador and for the communities and wildlife that depend on these extraordinarily important sites,” said Denis Landenbergue, WWF International's Wetlands Conservation Manager. “Ramsar designation will provide this priceless network of rivers, swamps and lagoons with an extra layer of protection.”
The new site incorporates significant portions of two of Ecuador’s most biodiverse regions – the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and the Yasuni National Park – and as well as conserving critically important corridors connecting the basins of the Aguarico, Lagartococha, Napo and Yasuni rivers.
Formed by hundreds of rivers, swamps and lagoons, the interconnected water system is dynamic and fluctuates depending on the weather conditions, creating an ecosystem with incredibly high levels of biodiversity – including more than 200 species of amphibians and reptiles, 600 species of birds, and 167 species of mammals.
Many of these species are threatened, such as the iconic pink river dolphin, the giant otter, and the manatee.
While the number of fish species is still undetermined, some of them – such as the paiche and catsfish – are a fundamental part of the diet of local communities.
Meanwhile, the moriche palm, which grows in flooded areas, provides important resources for local people, who criss-cross the wetlands by boat to trade with other communities. The myriad waterways also enable foreign travellers to reach these wonderful destinations, which are among the top tourist attractions in the country.
However, the most important contribution of this ecosystem is felt far beyond its immediate neighbourhood – since these wetlands play an important role in climate regulation. Water from this region evaporates and is transported to the Ecuadorian highlands, where it falls as rain – contributing to river flows in the wider Amazon basin.
In 2014, WWF-Ecuador began working with the Ministry of Environment to secure designation of the Cuyabeno-Lagartococha-Yasuni site with the support of local communities and WWF-Germany. But gathering the required information and data from an area as extensive as this one required considerable time and commitment and it was only on August 24th that the site was officially recognised.
“It has been a long process but it was worth all the effort to see this flagship site added to the Ramsar list,” said Landenbergue. “The commitment of the government also bodes well for the future because designation is only the first step, protection still needs to be enforced.”