Ramsar meets Venice: for sustainable management of the environmental heritage

Ramsar meets Venice: for sustainable management of the environmental heritage . . .

. . . was the theme of a meeting organized in the Arsenale di Venezia by the Provincial Government of Venice on 9 May 2003. Since 1998, the Province of Venice has included in its strategic plan the designation of the entire Lagoon of Venice (about 50,000 ha) as a Wetland of International Importance. About 80 participants, scientists and experts, administrators from different sectors, stakeholders and locally elected people gathered in the historic Naval Library. It was an important milestone towards the goal of conferring Ramsar status to the Venice Lagoon.

The meeting was chaired by Luigino Busatto, the President of Venice Province, and organized by the Department for Hunting and Fishing, under the leadership of Assesora Delia Murer of the Provincial Government. In preparation of the meeting, two Ramsar experts, María José Viñals (STRP member) and Michael Smart (former Senior Advisor in the Ramsar Bureau), were asked by the Province to prepare planning guidelines for the management of Venice Lagoon. Mayors of all municipalities sharing the Lagoon area participated in the meeting and were generally supportive of the idea of declaring the Lagoon as a Ramsar site, as well as Maria Giovanna Piva, the President of the Lagoon management authority (Magistrato alle Acque Venezia). The idea also obtained support from representatives of the fisheries sector, the hunters' associations, and NGOs. The representative of WWF Italy brought it to the point: "it does not make sense that Venice Lagoon, Italy's best known wetland, does not form part of Italy's (currently) 46 Ramsar sites".

Venice Lagoon has been used by humans for aeons for living, commercial fishing, hunting, transport and protection from enemy empires. To avoid filling up of the Lagoon with river sediments, already in medieval times, the main contributory rivers were diverted from the Lagoon. The well-protected lagoon zone provided the environment for the rise of the Venetian empire. In the 20th century, Porto Marghera, a huge port and industrial area, was built inside the Lagoon near Mestre, and it continues to pose severe environmental problems. Modern habitat restoration measures for saltmarshes and tidal mudflats of the Lagoon are now under way. Only the nature reserve Valle Averto (500 ha), in the southwestern part of the Lagoon, has so far been designated a Ramsar site (in 1989). Other, private and public areas of the Lagoon host an extremely rich biodiversity. The heronry of Valle di Figheri, a private fish farming and hunting estate, is simply extraordinary, and well protected. The historic town of Venice and many points of the Lagoon receive millions of tourists each year.

It seems therefore no longer necessary to demonstrate the importance of this truly unique wetland ecosystem. However, in view of the impressive cultural heritage, the ecological values and functions of the Lagoon seem often to be neglected. The representative of UNESCO's local office in Venice invited the audience to think about establishing a Biosphere Reserve covering "Venice and its Lagoon", as listed since 1987 under the World Heritage Convention. The Ramsar Bureau presented the tools available from the Convention on Wetlands and how to go about including the Lagoon in the List of Wetlands of International Importance. Angelo Ciasca of the Environment Ministry's Servizio Conservazione della Natura in Rome, the Ramsar National Authority, assured the public of his support and encouraged the local and provincial authorities to work together with the Veneto Region towards this end. He was seconded by Professor Giampaolo Rallo of Venice's Ca` Foscari University and conservation expert of the Environment Ministry.

The Venice Province has to be congratulated for their efforts to provide the Lagoon with a management framework that assures its long term sustainable development and the conservation of its natural resources.

-- reported by Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

Exhibition stand of Venice Province, including the Ramsar Posters, during the "Navalis" fair in Venice.

(Above) Preparatory discussion between María José Viñals (Ramsar expert), Delia Murer (Provincial Government), Giuseppe Cherubini (Provincial Office for Hunting and Fishing), and Mike Smart (Ramsar expert).

Some impressions during a visit of Venice Lagoon organized by Giuseppe Cherubini of Venice Province for the Ramsar visitors after the meeting - - -

A charming spot of Venice: admired by many tourists, and used by its inhabitants, as shown by the intensive boat traffic.

Ramsar visitors Tobias Salathé and Mike Smart discussing with Giuseppe Cherubini and a police officer of the Province close to the observation platform overlooking the extensive heronry on the private Valle di Figheri estate (unfortunately the spectacle of the many breeding birds is not visible on the photo).

Uses of Venice lagoon, how to assure that they are all sustainable and wise? Traditional fishermen on Burano island, modern harbour and industrial facilities at Porto Marghera . . .

saltmarsh restoration efforts in their early stages, maintenance works in Valle Zappa, a private, traditional fish farming area.

And finally, charming views over the tidal flats and marshes of the Lagoon from the heights of the XIth century church tower of Torcello island.

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
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2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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