Cape Town - Today is World Wetlands Day, marking the 45th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention and the adoption of an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands on 2 February 1971.
Initially held in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Ramsar sites as they are now known help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands. While South Africa is home to no fewer than 17 sites, Southern Africa is rich in wetland biodiversity - inspiring nature lovers to add a dash of Wetlands wanderlust to their travel adventures.
Here are 5 Southern African Ramsar Wetland sites you should visit in 2016
1. Etosha Pan, Lake Oponono and Cuvelai, Namibia
This system of ephemeral rivers, feeding pans and associated lake and delta, including the pans, seasonally-flooded grasslands, supports 45% of Namibia's human population, who exist by subsistence farming and fishing on the floodplains and seasonal wetlands. The site also supports populations of several rare and endangered large mammals, and in good rainy seasons it serves as a breeding ground for flamingos.
2. Okavango Delta, Botswana
The beauty and serenity of the Delta is something every person on this planet should experience at some point or other. The delta is a refuge for more than 200 000 large mammals during the rainy season between June and August and also home to more than 400 species of birds and 71 species of fish including the 1.4 metre African shark tooth cat fish. Inscribed as the 1 000th UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2014, the Okavango become one of 62nd Ramsar Site to also carry the World Heritage designation – with its unique ecosystem under the protection of the 2008 Okavango Delta Management Plan.
Source: Ramsar site since 1997
3. Bangweulu Swamps, Zambia
This site not only provides a breeding ground for birds, fishes and wildlife but it also supports large numbers of the endemic, semi-aquatic Black Lechwe and is home to the threatened Wattled crane, as well as the only home in Zambia for the threatened Shoebill. The swamp is a natural flood controller and important for groundwater recharge and water quality control. The site contains the historical Nachikufu caves with bushman paintings, maintained by Zambia’s National Heritage Conservation Commission. The Zambian Wildlife Authority in collaboration with WWF-Zambia office are collaborating on improving sustainable livelihoods and ecotourism possibilities.
4. Rivière Nosivolo et affluents, Madagascar
Madagascar’s 7th Ramsar site of International Importance is situated in a rich wetland area in the eastern part of the country. It comprises 130 km of main river system along which flowing water, lakes, pools and irrigated lands spread throughout 200 km, including 62 inland islets. The Nosivolo near-natural ecosystem is recognised as having the highest concentration of endemic freshwater fish in Madagascar.
Source: Ramsar Site no. 1916
5. iSimangaliso Wetland, South African
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, meaning miracle and wonder, is South Africa’s Inaugural World Heritage Site, first declared in December 1999 in recognition of its superlative natural beauty and unique global values. The 332 000 hectare Park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, 700 year old fishing traditions, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, 526 bird species and 25 000 year-old vegetated coastal dunes – among the highest in the world.
Source: RSIS Ramsar.org
Full list of South African Ramsar sites include:
- De Hoop Vlei
- De Mond (Heuningnes Estuary)
- Kosi Bay
- Lake Sibhayi
- Natal Drakensberg Park
- Ndumo Game Reserve
- Nylsvley Nature Reserve
- Onrus River Estuary
- Orange River Mouth
- Seekoei-vlei Nature Reserve
- Turtle Beaches and Coral Reefs of Tongaland
- Verloren Valei Nature Reserve
- Wilderness Lakes