Pakistan Safeguards Eight New Wetlands of International Importance

GLAND, Switzerland, May 14, 2001 (ENS) - The government of Pakistan has designated eight new wetland areas for protection under the intergovernmental treaty known as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. They shelter endangered species of dolphins, sea turtles and migratory birds.

The new sites include an extensive mangrove forest stretching along Gawater Bay on the Arabian Sea to the Iranian border adjacent to Iran's Govater Bay and Hur-e-Bahu Ramsar sites, Dwight Peck of the Ramsar Secretariat announced today at the Convention's headquarters in Switzerland.

The conservation organizations IUCN-Pakistan and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan have both been very active, not only in biodiversity studies and management planning for these areas, but also in technical preparations for these Ramsar designations, Peck said.

A newly designated Ramsar wetlands site that builds on the work of WWF-Pakistan is a 170 kilometer (105 mile) stretch of the Indus River located between the Sukkar and Guddu barrages that is vital for the survival of the endangered Indus dolphin.


A endangered blind dolphin travels up the Indus River. (Two photos courtesy Ramsar Secretariat)
A team of biologists from WWF-Pakistan and the Pakistani government has just completed a seven week, 1,370 kilometer (850 mile) expedition that covered the entire home range of the Indus dolphin. Braving gale force winds and searing heat, the census crew sighted a minimum of 965 individual dolphins. This led them to conclude that at least 1,000 of these unique mammals are left in the lower reaches of the Indus River.

Pakistanís Indus River dolphin is one of only five species that have, over a period of millions of years, adapted to living in fresh water. The Indus and Ganges river dolphins of South Asia are the most unique of these five species as they are functionally blind. They use high frequency sound to navigate, socialize and locate their prey, says Richard Garstang, conservation advisor with WWF Pakistan.

Pakistan has also designated the uninhabited Astola (Haft Talar) Island for protection under the Ramsar treaty. Located 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) south of the desert coast Balochistan province, it is the only large offshore island along the north coast of the Arabian Sea, and as such maintains the genetic and ecological diversity of the area.

The endangered green turtle and possibly the hawksbill turtle nest on the beach at the foot of the Astola Island cliffs, and it is an area for native reptiles found nowhere else. Feral cats originally introduced by fishermen to control the rodent population pose an increasing threat to birdsí nesting and breeding sites.

The Ormara Turtle Beaches of Balochistan have also been set aside for protection. Extending about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) along the shores of the Arabian Sea, the beaches support the endangered olive ridley and green turtles and possibly the hawksbill turtle as well. Because the area falls in the subduction zone of the Indian Ocean tectonic plate moving northward, clusters of mud volcanos have developed along the shore, where gas charged water escapes to the surface. The vegetation is composed of salt and drought tolerant plants. Accumulations of plastic debris along the coast cause problems, as does the capture of turtles for export.


The Jiwani Coastal Wetland forms part of a larger protected area that extends into Iran.
Also in Balochistan, the mangrove forests of the Jiwani Coastal Wetland have been designated for protection. Located along Gawater Bay around the delta of the Dasht River and extending westward to the Iranian frontier, this area adjoins a Ramsar site in Iran. It is considered a crucial nesting ground for endangered olive ridley and green turtles, especially at four moderately wide and gently sloping sandy beaches in the eastern part of the site.

Fishing is practiced by clans that have migrated from Iran and from farther east in Pakistan as well as descendants of traders and soldiers from North and East Africa and the Gulf, the Ramsar Secretariat says. Provincial plans to grant fishing concessions to a U.S. industrial fishing firm and offshore drilling rights to a foreign oil company are viewed with concern by conservation authorities.

Another newly protected site in Balochistan is Miani Hor, a large shallow sea bay and estuarine system with low-lying islands and extensive mangrove swamps and intertidal mud flats, separated from the adjacent Sonmiani Bay in the Arabian Sea by a broad peninsula of sand dunes. The site is the only area of Pakistanís coast where three species of mangroves (Avicennia marina, Rhizophora mucronata, and Ceriops tagal) occur naturally. Frequented by large numbers of waterbirds, the area is increasingly threatened by solid waste debris such as plastic bags and bottles. Both IUCN-Pakistan and WWF-Pakistan are active in the region, in collaboration with local communities. WWF opened a wetland visitorsí center here on World Wetlands Day 1999.


Boats in the Indus River Delta (Photo courtesy Asim Mughal)
Two sites in the province of Sindh have been set aside for protection. Jubho Lagoon, a large shallow brackish lagoon with mudflats and marshes, is important for commercial fisheries and for wintering waterbirds such as flamingos and endangered Dalmatian pelicans, the rarest of the world's seven pelican species and one of the largest bird species on the planet. The site is privately owned by local inhabitants. WWF launched a wetland visitorsí center here on World Wetlands Day 1999.

Sindh's Nurri Lagoon, a shallow stretch of brackish water with barren mudflats is visited by large concentrations of migratory waterbirds on a seasonal basis. Salinity and sedimentation are increasing due to the intrusion of the sea. The privately owned land provides livelihood to about 4,000 people in surrounding villages, chiefly through fisheries. Invasive species and population pressures, including accelerating agricultural and industrial pollution are threatening the area.

The eighth newly protected Ramsar site is a large water storage reservoir on the Hub River north of the city of Karachi. The reservoir supplies water for irrigation and drinking water for Karachi. It is an important staging and wintering area for many species of waterbirds and contains a variety of fish species which increase in abundance during periods of high water. Recent consecutive years of low summer rainfall have reduced the water level. WWF-Pakistan also opened a wetland visitorsí center here on World Wetlands Day 1999.

The government of Pakistan's designation of eight new Wetlands of International Importance, with a total of 222,246 hectares, brings the total number of Ramsar sites in the country to 16.

The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971 provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 124 countries that are parties to the convention, with 1,069 wetland sites, totaling 81.2 million hectares (313,432 square miles) included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.