New protected area in Congo basin is bigger than Switzerland

Posted on November, 22 2017

Almost 4.5 million hectares of critical wetlands given international protection
The creation today of one of the world’s largest wetland protected areas (WPA) in the Democratic Republic of Congo will help to conserve a critically important part of the Congo basin, providing greater protection for its rich biodiversity and securing vital water supplies for many communities.

Measuring almost 4.5 million hectares – an area larger than Switzerland – the Lufira Basin in southerastern DRC has been designated a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention. Covering a network of rivers, lakes, floodplains and swamp forests as well as four national protected areas, the massive new WPA is home to a wealth of wildlife, including many endemic fish, bird and reptile species and the rare Upemba lechwe.

The area also boasts some spectacular waterfalls including the 384-metre high Lofoï, which is the highest waterfall in Africa and the second highest in the world.

“WWF is delighted that this extraordinary wetland has been recognised as an area of international importance and will now be protected under Ramsar,” said Bruno Perodeau, WWF DRC’s Conservation Director. “Strengthening the protection of the Lufira Basin is a significant step towards effective conservation of this area and the long term welfare of communities that depend on this wetland and the unique wildlife that lives there.”

It is symbolic that the creation of one the top 15 WPAs on earth comes just after the Climate Conference in Bonn given the increasing awareness about the role that healthy wetlands can play in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Along with helping to maintain water supplies and minimise the impact of extreme floods, some wetlands also act as important carbon sinks.

The new Ramsar site is the fourth in the DRC, bringing its total wetland area under protection to almost 12 million hectares.

“The Congo Basin is a global conservation priority and its future is dependent on the health of its countless rivers and other wetlands,” said Perodeau. “WWF will continue working with the government and communities to improve the management of these areas especially in the light of growing global climate threats. Effective management will help to maintain the ecosystem services that the site already provides, and ensure that it remains resilient in the face of unpredictable environmental changes.”

With the announcement of the Lufira Basin site, WWF has now supported the protection of over 105 million hectares of wetlands around the world under Ramsar in the past twenty years.

The designation of the new Ramsar site was supported by USAID along with German assistance.

The news also follows the designation in June of the largest transnational Ramsar site, Lac Télé Lac Tumba, which unified neighbouring wetland protected areas in DRC and the Republic of Congo. This unified site is home to the largest tropical peat bog in the world, which stores up to 30 billion tonnes of carbon, highlighting its important role in the fight against climate change
Waterfall in the Lufira Basin Ramsar site in the Democratic Republic of Congo
© Elise Queslin

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River in the Lufira Basin Ramsar site in the Democratic Republic of Congo
© Elise Queslin