Congo names four large Ramsar sites

01/02/2008

The Republic of Congo designates four sites on World Wetlands Day 2008

The Direction Générale de l'Environnement of the Republic of Congo has taken the occasion of World Wetlands Day to designate four new Wetlands of International Importance, effective 13 December 2007. Conkouati-Douli (504,950 hectares, 03°55'S 011°27'E) and Cayo-Loufoualeba (15,366 hectares, 04°53'S 011°57'E) are both at least partially mangrove sites on the Atlantic coast in Kouilou province, the first near the border with Gabon and the second farther southeast near the border with the Cabinda exclave of Angola. Grands affluents (5,908,074 hectares, 00°15'S 016°42'E) is an enormous area that includes basins of a number of important tributaries of the Congo River and surrounds Congo's only previous Ramsar site, the Réserve Communautaire du Lac Télé/Likouala-aux-Herbes, and Libenga (59,409 hectares, 02°51'N 018°00'E), near the northern border, comprises the river Libenga and associated marshes and floodplains.

The four new designations have been jointly supported by WWF International's Freshwater Programme and by the Swiss Federal Office for Environment through the Convention's Swiss Grant for Africa, and they are intended to be part of a series of new Ramsar designations throughout the Congo Basin leading up to the creation of the CongoWet regional initiative, which has been under development as a result of the Declaration by the Council of Ministers of the Commission Internationale du Bassin Congo-Ougangui-Sangha (CICOS), with which the Ramsar Secretariat has a memorandum of cooperation.

The brief site descriptions below were prepared by Ramsar's Evelyn Parh Moloko based on the Ramsar Information Sheets compiled by Gilbert Madouka, the Ramsar focal point in Congo, and Gilbert Mbati. The Congo river photos by Denis Landenbergue, WWF International, are from preparatory visits that he and Abou Bamba made to Congo in 2005 and 2007, but are not specifically of these four new Ramsar sites.

Abou Bamba (Ramsar), Denis Landenbergue (WWF International), and Gilbert Madouka, Ramsar focal point, Direction Générale de l'Environnement of Congo.

Cayo-Loufoualeba. 13/12/07; Kouilou; 15,366 ha; 04°53'S 011°57'E. A complex of marine and continental wetlands in the south, including the Malonda mangrove, the Loemé and Malonda rivers, Cayo and Loufoualeba lakes, small streams, marshes and submerged forested islets, resulting in a highly diversified ecosystem. It is an important refuge for the Hippopotamus and Chimpanzee, species of conservation concern. About 378 bird species (including about 284 breeding birds) and a significant number of waterbird species restricted to the Congo-Guinea biome have been spotted, thus contributing significantly to maintaining the biodiversity of the region. As an important source of fish, fuel wood, water for domestic use, and other forest and water resources and as a site associated with traditional beliefs, it is of considerable socio-cultural value to the surrounding population. An overall hydrological balance is maintained by ground water recharge ensured by the lakes, flood prevention, shoreline stabilization and nutrient retention ensured by the marshes and vegetation cover. In the absence of a management plan for the site, it presently benefits from the hunting law which bans hunting from November to May every year. Resource use in some zones is also restricted to clan members, hence ensuring controlled exploitation of resources. Ramsar site no. 1740. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Conkouati-Douli. 13/12/07; Kouilou; 504,950 ha; 03°55'S 011°27'E; National Park. A diverse complex of marine and continental wetland types on the border with Gabon (littoral coast and beaches, mangroves, lagoons, lakes, permanent rivers and streams, papyrus marshes and submerged swamp forests) results in a highly diverse fauna (1207 species in 129 families), makes it a refuge and reproduction zone for fishes, shrimps, crabs, waterbirds and mammals, and maintains the overall hydrological balance of the zone through groundwater recharge, flood prevention, shoreline stabilization and nutrient retention. The resulting fauna diversity contributes to maintaining the biodiversity of the region and gives the site its great biological, hydrological and economic importance. Species of global conservation concern include the forest elephant, gorilla, marine turtles, etc. Fishing and hunting are the major socio-economic activities. Harvesting of forest resources mostly for subsistence also occurs. The waters of the site are exploited for traditional and religious rites, making it culturally important. The National Park has an official management plan but also benefits from the fishing and hunting laws of Congo, further ensuring conservation of its resources. The appearance of invasive aquatic plants, practice of bush fires and slash and burn agriculture, and poaching of turtle eggs are major threats. Ramsar site no. 1741. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Grands affluents. 13/12/07; Plateaux, Cuvette, Sangha, Likouala; 5,908,074 ha; 00°15'S 016°42'E. A large expanse along the Congo River, which with its tributaries represents the most important hydrological system in Central Africa. The main features are lakes, ponds, marshes, flooded and swampy forests, and permanent and temporary rivers, the main rivers being Oubangui, Sangha, Likouala-Mossaka, and Alima, all Congo tributaries, leading to the appellation "Grands affluents". This diverse biotope hosts a wide variety of plant species, macro invertebrates, fishes, birds, reptiles and aquatic mammals. It is home to endangered species (forest elephant, gorilla, and hippopotamus) and offers refuge to migratory fish and bird species during adverse periods. Fishing and exploitation of palm wine (a drink of traditional/cultural symbolism) are major socio-economic activities by the riverine population. The rivers offer an important transport network for local movement as well as transportation of goods between Central Africa and the Atlantic coast, thus important for the socio-economic development of the region. In the absence of a management plan, resource exploitation is partially controlled by respect for the hunting seasons, restriction of exploitation of certain zones to clan residents only, and other local practices and beliefs. Ramsar site no. 1742. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Libenga. 13/12/07; Likouala; 59,409 ha; 02°51'N 018°00'E. Located in the north and extending to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the level of River Oubangui, the site consists of River Libenga (325 km long), marshes on both sides of the river, small streams, floodplains, and swamp forests. It plays an important role in biodiversity maintenance, hydrological regulation, and socio-economy of the zone. The river is an important refuge for the hippopotamus population coming from River Oubangui where they face some threats. A wide variety of endemic and migrant fish species inhabit these waters, and the prairies around the river serve as a refuge for some migratory birds (Marabou Stork and Pelicans) and migratory buffalos. The river is important for local transportation. Fishing and palm wine exploitation constitute the main economical activities. The site has no management plan at present but benefits from national and local resource management measures such as restrictive hunting seasons and limitation of exploitation of certain zones to clan residents. River Libenga continues to benefit from the program of control of aquatic invasive species that was initiated by the government in 1998. Ramsar site no. 1743. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Gilbert Madouka and Abou Bamba and friends.

WWF press report: http://www.panda.org/index.cfm?uNewsID=123820

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