Over 3 million hectares of newly designated Ramsar sites in the Republic of Congo will provide important habitat for endangered species and help support the livelihoods of surrounding communities. The Republic of Congo’s latest three Ramsar Site designations are Ntokou-Pikounda, Odzala Kokoua and Vallée du Niari – bringing its total area of coverage under the Ramsar Convention to 11,335,259 with 10 Wetlands of International Importance.
The Republic of Congo now has the third largest total worldwide area of wetlands under protection, after Canada and Chad. The preparations for these new additions to the Ramsar List were assisted through financial support from the WWF International Freshwater programme.
Anada Tiega, Secretary General of the International Convention on Wetlands, congratulated the Republic of Congo for this major conservation milestone achieved with WWF’s support. Tiega said these new designations come at an opportune time, as nations meet in Hyderabad, India, on the occassion of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity COP 11 to discuss mechanisms for enhancing protection of biological diversity.
“During the last meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the 193 member nations set a target to protect at least 17 per cent of their terrestrial and inland water ecosystems by 2020. This move by the Republic of Congo demonstrates how protecting wetlands through Ramsar can help countries meet their commitments,” said Tiega.
The new Ramsar sites are home to a wealth of plant and animal species, including several IUCN Red-Listed species such as Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), African elephant (Loxodonta africana), Western lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and Central Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes).
These wetlands are also home to hundreds of fish species, which are both a source of nutrition and income for surrounding communities. The marshes, ponds, lakes and flooded forests are part of the migration path of more than 200 species of bird.
WWF suggests that protecting habitat for charismatic species could enhance tourism opportunities in the Republic of Congo, with potential economic, environmental and social benefits. Sustainable tourism practiced in and around wetlands can also contribute to poverty alleviation through the improvement of livelihoods, regional and national economies and support to local cultures.
Wetlands are areas that provide important and valuable ecological services – such as regulating water regimes and being a source of biodiversity at all levels (species, genetic and ecosystem). Wetlands also play a vital role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. They include areas such as swamps and marshes, lakes and rivers, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans. The Convention on Wetlands, known as the Ramsar Convention, is an important intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.