World Wetlands Day in Suriname
Ramsar sites and potential Ramsar sites
The Senior Advisor for the Americas, Margarita Astrálaga, participated in the 3.5-day celebrations of World Wetlands Day in Suriname. During the first day, official discussions took place with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Physical Planning, Land and Forestry Management, the Head of the Forest Service, and her staff about the past and future implementation of the Convention in the country, followed by a visit to WWF offices to discuss possibilities for joint work between the Convention and WWF in the Guianas, and in particular the need for Suriname to support Guyana in its accession process. WWF was a key partner to the Government in the preparation and organization of the celebrations of WWD 2007. At the end of the afternoon, a visit to the natural path in a nearby wetland that is being designed and managed by STINASU (Foundation for Nature Conservation of Suriname) with support from an aluminum company in the area and IUCN. The path will serve as an education and ecotourism tool, and a visitor's center will be built.
Later, discussions were held with CELOS Agricultural Research Institute, identifying opportunities to work together and highlighting the importance of working jointly with the Regional Ramsar Centre for Training and Research on Wetlands in the Western Hemisphere (CREHO) on capacity building activities. CELOS was also a key partner to the Government in the preparation and organization of the celebrations of WWD 2007.
In the afternoon Margarita gave a presentation at the University of Paramaribo about generalities of the Convention, its status in the Americas, and the key requirements for the designation of Ramsar sites. The conference was attended by over 50 people from many different backgrounds and institutions.
The second day was spent visiting the only Ramsar site in Suriname, Coppename Monding, accompanied by the district authorities and the director of the NGO responsible for the implementation of the Ramsar's Small Grant Project in Coronie Swamp. In the Ramsar site we had an opportunity to observe the traditional fishing techniques, fishermen repairing one of their traditional traps, as well as collecting its fish. The Senior Advisor was invited to help one of the fishermen carrying out his duties. Many birds and beautiful healthy mangroves were observed during this journey.
Back in port a visit to the patios of some of the fishermen took place, to have a look at the way they process fish either for export to Europe or for the local market. It was noted that the majority of fishermen in the area have a very good standard of living.
The group carried on towards Coronie, and on the way there a visit was made to a mangrove (Avicennia sp) area where the local people produce some of the best honey of the country took place. This has been a traditional use of the mangrove forest and it is important for the communities that the ecosystem stays healthy to be able to continue with this important source of income.
The visit to Coronie was accompanied also by the authorities of the district, and there we observed some dead mangrove, and some more in the process of dying. It was stated that the coastal area has receded substantially towards the land and the lack of sufficient freshwater is killing the mangroves. Some of the local fishermen blamed a dam that was built in a higher part of the area and which is providing freshwater for irrigation of rice paddies, limiting the amount of freshwater that gets to the coast. This is a serious concern for the coastal communities as they depend on the fisheries for their livelihoods.
The night was spent in Nickerie, in preparation for the final arrival of the 2nd of February. In the early morning local and national authorities, as well as the Ramsar Secretariat, CELOS, and WWF representatives, welcomed the participants to the big day celebrations. There were several games intended to help students identify the wetland dependent species in the region, organized by WWF for all students of the area who take turns to come and visit the centre, and there was a fauna exhibition by Ramsar's Administrative Authority and a fish & swamp exhibition by CELOS; who informed the participants of the different fish species in the area, their key biological features and conservation status.
In the afternoon we visited Bigi Pan Swamp (WHSRN site), which is being considered as a potential Ramsar site. The site shows very healthy mangroves and a huge variety and density of waterbird populations. Coming back from an outstanding trip we arrived at the community centre to have a large and wonderful variety of dishes cooked with fish in different traditional ways by the local women.
Our last half day was spent over flying a new potential freshwater Ramsar site in the flooded forest, as well as Nanni Natural reserve, Coronie, Coppename Monding, and the turtle nesting beaches which could also qualify as Ramsar sites. In the mudflats the carpets of colorful birds were breathtaking.
After three and half intense and wonderful days the Senior Advisor for the Americas had to return to very cold Switzerland.