Ramsar trip to Georgia, September 2000

13/10/2000

Georgia

Mission Report

Georgia – Kobuleti - 1-4 September 2000

by Tobias Salathé, Regional Coordinator for Europe, Ramsar Bureau


Objectives

1. To participate in the first international workshop on "Wetland conservation in the Caucasus" organised in Kobuleti by the Georgian Centre for the Conservation of Wildlife (GCCW) and the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN).

2. To meet, as far as possible, with people involved in wetland conservation in Georgia, representing the authorities responsible for the implementation of the Ramsar Convention, scientific institutions, and NGOs.

3. To meet with the coordinator of the current Ramsar Small Grants Fund project on the "Conservation of Javakheti plateau wetlands in southern Georgia" to learn about progress and results of the projet.


Results

Outcomes of the Kobuleti workshop

4. The workshop, financially supported by USAID’s project for Environmental Information Systems and Networking (EISN), was a success in bringing together for the first time wetland conservation experts from the three main Caucasus countries Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The presentations on ongoing projects in the fields of wetland conservation, integrated water resources management, management of shared catchments and rivers, and waterbird conservation were of high quality and actuality and presented in a lively and communicative way. The good organisation of the workshop and the targeted audience of adequate size (about 25 participants) contributed to this success. The workshop provided a forum to debate seriously transboundary issues of water resources and wetland management and conservation.

5. This should be seen as a first encounter that needs to be followed up by further regular meetings and common activities, such as those planned or starting through international projects presented during the workshop. At the end of the workshop, the participants felt that they needed more time to reflect on the possible development of further concrete transboundary activities and programmes, and that this should be pursued in earnest soon. The Ramsar "Guidelines for international cooperation under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands" (Ramsar Handbook 9) can help to set up joint plans and activities. All participants who expressed their wish were sent a copy of Ramsar’s toolkit (i.e. the box with the Ramsar Handbooks) subsequent to the workshop. Further copies are available on simple demand from the Ramsar Bureau.

Priorities for the implementation of the Ramsar Convention in Georgia

6. Ms Maka Bitsadze, of the Ministry of Environment in Tbilisi, is the new assistant Ramsar focal point for Georgia. She presented a useful and up-to-date overview of current priorities for the implementation of Ramsar obligations in her country. Wetland conservation is so far an integrated part of the new Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. However, she stressed that the elaboration of a specific National Wetlands Strategy is still desirable. She suggested furthermore that a National Wetlands (or Ramsar) Committee with participants from all stakeholder sectors (the different Ministries having an influence on wetlands, research institutions, NGOs and representatives of local people living next to Georgian wetlands) should be established soon. The elaboration of a National Wetland Inventory is highly desirable as a firm baseline for the development of a National Wetlands Policy. The Ministry has received the new National Ramsar Report format for COP8, and intends to use it as a National Planning Tool. Georgia just terminated a review of existing national environmental legislation. The new Water Law will provide the main framework to implement the obligations of the Ramsar Convention.

7. Particular attention should also be given to the development of sustainable management structures and activities for Georgian Protected Areas. In particular, the functional concerns of wetland ecosystems need to be taken into account by the ongoing process of Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Black Sea area. To this end, the Government of Georgia established a Project Implementation Unit (the ICZM Centre), supported by the World Bank with funds from the IDA (credit of 4.4 million USD), GEF (grant of 1.3 million USD), and the Netherlands. The project area covers the two existing Ramsar Sites and their surroundings (Central Kolkheti Wetlands [33,710 ha] and the central part of the Ispani peat bog and fen [513 ha] next to Kobuleti coastal tourist resort). A widespread potential threat to Georgian wetlands is water pollution and eutrophication, mainly due to the absence or derelict state of remaining treatment facilities for domestic and industrial waste waters.

8. Unfortunately, Mr Irakli Macharashvili, of the Noah’s Ark Centre for the Recovery of Endangered Species (NACRES), coordinator of the Ramsar SGF project on the "Conservation of Javakheti plateau wetlands in southern Georgia" was unable to attend the workshop and to present the draft management plan under preparation. However, the Ramsar Bureau received the final project report soon after on 11 September from Mr Levan Butkhuzi, NACRES programme coordinator, and commented on its results separately. On 4 September, while travelling on road with the Armenian delegation back to their country, I had the occasion to visit the high altitude Javakheti Plateau and have a brief look at the steppe lake Khanchali (425 ha remaining after large drainage works in the 1960s), surrounded by intensively used grasslands, next to the small market town of Ninotsminda. The project report identifies the inclusion of the Javakheti Plateau Wetlands in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance as a priority. The Ramsar Bureau therefore strongly suggests that the Georgian Authorities declare these unique steppe lakes and their surroundings as Ramsar Sites (in accordance with Resolution VII.11 paragraph 15).

Construction of new oil terminal in the Kolkheti Ramsar Site

9. The news presented about the World Bank/GEF "Georgia Integrated Coastal Management Project" were encouraging and disturbing at the same time, given the fact that the Georgian Government started construction works for the Kulevi oil terminal on the left bank of the Khobi river mouth, a location that forms part of the existing Ramsar Site and is in the immediate proximity of the core zone of the Kolkheti National Park.

10. The Ramsar Bureau informed the workshop that so far, only exceptionally, boundaries of a Ramsar Site have been modified to accommodate substantiated urgent national interest. According to internationally accepted terms, a prior Environmental Impact and Risk Assessment study should also have evaluated alternative locations for the construction of the Kulevi oil terminal along the coast of the Rioni river plain? Environmental impacts on the aquatic ecoystems need to be evaluated for both, the periods of construction and of exploitation of the terminal, and also alongside its marine and terrestrial access ways (navigation, railway, etc.). No development should occur that would not be compatible with the ICZM recommendations.

11. Nowadays, it is a widespread fact that major infrastructure developments, with potentially damaging environmental or social side effects, are scrutinised by international NGOs, who will widely campaign for the respect of internationally agreed environmental and social principles. The Ramsar Bureau therefore hopes that solutions that are compatible with Ramsar’s Wise Use Principle can be found.


Acknowledgements

I wish to congratulate Ramaz Gokhelashvili and his colleagues for the organisation of a truly successful workshop, and to thank the organisers and USAID for having covered my local transport and subsistence costs.

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