Namibia currently has four wetlands listed under the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands of International Importance.
The conservation of Namibia’s iconic and crucial wetland network was given another boost with the launch last week of wetlands and eco-tourism materials and posters of Namibia’s biomes.
The material was jointly produced by Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the Namibia Nature Foundation and the Ramsar Convention Secretariat; the over-arching goal being to increase awareness of the need for conservation, the role played by wetlands, and the opportunities for eco-tourism.
Flamingos from above
At the launch, Louisa Mupetami, Director of Scientific Services at MET said that currently tourism focuses mainly on the country’s desert landscapes and abundant wildlife.
While there is limited tourism focused on wetlands, they are “not perceived as being highly productive and valuable ecosystems by both visitors and residents” she added.
That should change.
Research conducted during the past two years has demonstrated that there are numerous wetland tourism opportunities that have not been fully explored yet.
All of Namibia’s wetlands are located in national parks and are managed as integral parts of these parks, although there is currently a drive to review management plans for these sites.
The Wetlands project team is also currently actively engaged in identifying new sites that meet the criteria of Ramsar Convention for listing.
The role wetlands plays in an ecosystem cannot be over-emphasized, especially in an arid country such as Namibia.
In Namibia wetlands inevitably are birding hot-spots and play essential eco-system functions.
Wetlands are the main driving forces of life and different life forms in both desert and savannah biomes.
For instance, Namibia’s impressive flamingo population thrives solely on the existence of healthy wetlands. Without the wetlands, the pink swathes of the birds photographed by tourists would not exist.
Wetlands also offer ideal opportunities for local communities, who could benefit financially from tourism opportunities at wetlands – the catch being that the conservation and careful protection of the wetlands is a critical element going hand in hand with tourism opportunities.
Unfortunately, wetlands do face tough challenges – mainly because of the increasing demand for wetland resources.
Mupetami said that there are steps that would ensure that wetland based tourism is socio-economically and ecologically sustainable, namely by:
- Managing tourism activities in and around wetlands in a manner that minimizes negative impacts
- Establishing strong relationships with the tourism sector to promote wetlands and raise the need for their conservation
- Sound planning for land use around wetlands to ensure compatibility and sustainability
- Establishing sound and enabling policy and legislative that promotes wetland conservation and wise use of wetlands resources
- Involving local communities in the management of wetlands and enable such communities to draw direct benefits form such management involvement and through wetland resources
NAMIBIA WETLAND FACTS:
Walvis Bay lagoon
- It has been argued that the Walvis Bay wetland is one of the most important coastal wetlands in Southern Africa and among the top three in Africa
- It has also been designated as an international Important Bird area.
- The diversity of habitats in this wetland, with its lagoon, mudflats, shoreline, saltpans and sewage ponds supports a quarter million wetland birds each spring
- In Winter the wetland supports anything from 70 000 to 100 000 birds when the migrants have left
- It more than meets the Ramsar criteria of having over 1% of the world population of any water bird species
- In fact, it meets this for 18 species including up to 70% of the world population of chestnut-banded plovers, 70% of Greater Flamingos, 65% of Lesser Flamingos and 40% of the world’s black-necked Grebes.
- This wetland rivals the importance of the Walvis Bay wetlands.
- It is regarded as one of the top 10 coastal wetlands in Africa.
- On average the area hosts about 70 000 birds, of which many are seasonally migratory.
- The most birds recorded here were 316 000 during a bird census in 2010.
- Few locations in the world can compete with the extreme contrasts of the desert meeting the ocean.
- Due to its nutrient-rich water, the lagoon is also an important spawning ground for several species of fish.
- At the beginning of the year, kob start their spawning migration in the waters of the Skeleton Coast Park, where the main breeding stock lives.
- They then migrate southwards to their main spawning grounds at Sandwich Harbour and Meob Bay.
- Sandwich is also described as a nursery for juvenile fish.
- Namibia’s only designated inland Ramsar site is Etosha Pan.
- The pan is millions of years old and is clearly visible from space.
- Ecologically speaking the pan is a shallow, ephemeral pool fed by local rainfall or runoff from ephemeral, endoreic rivers.
- This usually dry wetland covers some 600 000 hectares.
- Seasonal rains and high floods – referred to locally as efundja – from the Cuvelai drainage system to the north, fill the pan occasionally, creating the only known nesting site for flamingos in Namibia.
- In good years, Etosha can support up to a million birds.
- Most years the seasonal floods through the network of iishana do not reach the Etosha Pan.
- But once every few years, an unusually large flood or efundja carries water all the way into the Etosha Pajn, transforming the chalk-dry, saline desert into a spectacular wetland, teeming with birdlife, fishes and frogs.
- During times when the pan floods, crustaceans appear as if from nowhere, makin the most of the brief wet season, mating and laying egs before the weater dries out.
- The Etosha National Park is also listed as an Important Bird Area because it supports significant numbers of Blue Cranes, which are globally threatened, and three globally near-threatened species, Lesser Flamingos, Pallid Harriers and Blackwinged Pratincoles.
- Etosha supports more than 1% of the world population of White Pelicans,Greater Flamingos, Chestnutbanded Plovers and Caspian Plovers.
- 20 other bird species found in Etosha are either endemic to Namibia or have a restricted range.
- Moreover the pan supports unique vegetation varieties which can grow in the saline desert and dwarf shrub savanna fringe that is the pan.
Orange River Mouth
- It is an example of a rare wetland in its particular biogeographical region.
- It supports an appreciable assemblage of rare, vulnerable or endangered species.Of the 57 wetland bird species recorded, 14 can be considered either to be rare or endangered.
- Bird numbers and diversity can be as high as 26 000 individuals comprising 56 species.
- The site also supports 33 mammal species (including the Cape clawless otter) and the Namaqua barb, a red data species fish found only in the lower reaches of the Orange River.
- In 1995 the site was placed on the Montreux Record of the Ramsar Convention following the collapse of the salt marsh component of the system, which was the result of a combination of impacts, both at and upstream of the wetland.
- These impacts included adjacent diamond mining activities, flow regulation of the Orange River as a result of dam construction, mosquito control measures and poor management of the mouth.
- Theses impacts resulted in a significant decrease in the number of waterfowl utilizing the system.
- At times the area supports more than 1% of the world populations of Cape Cormorant Phalacrocorax capensis, South African Shelduck Tadorna cana, Cape Shoveller Anas smithii and Hartlaub’s Gull Chroicocephalus hartlaubii.
- The wetland and adjacent coastal dunes also support substantial numbers of Damara Tern Sterna balaenarum, especially from a South African context.
Sources for Orange River wetland facts: http://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/iba/iba-directory/221-orangerivermouth