World Wetlands Day 2003:

09/03/2003

Reported by Roy Erling Wranes, Leader, Slettnes Birdstation

World Wetlands Day at 71º N
the northernmost WWD celebration in 2003

Introduction

Once more people around the world have gathered together for the annual event on the second day of February, World Wetlands Day (WWD). If you take a short look at a world map, it’s easy to understand that the climate must be different depending upon where in the world WWD is celebrated. But can you imagine that there are some people arranging lectures and guided tours in the dark, cold, Arctic? In an area that is further north than Alaska? In a place where snow and ice covers everything, and it seems like there is no life at all? Continue reading for a story about the northernmost WWD celebration in the world!

Location

The place where this story begins is situated in Norway. Far north, at over 71º N, in the county of Finnmark, is the Slettnes Nature Reserve. This is one of the most important breeding areas for thousands of shorebirds in Scandinavia, and became a Ramsar site in 2002. It is also a renowned place for seabird migration. Norwegian and foreign scientists visit the area every year. Over 100 bird species are registered there, and sometimes a few rarities turn up. In 2001 the Norwegian Ornithological Society built a bird station there that runs all year round, with information for birders and tourists as well as scientists.

Importance and threats

The reserve is bordering the Barents Sea. A very rich biological production supports the many marine birds in the Barents Sea region, and some areas have populations that are among the densest in the world. Historically, marine birds, mammals, fish etc have been an important food resource for humans (egg collecting, hunting and trapping). In former times, fishermen also depended on marine birds to locate the best fishing grounds offshore and to indicate the way home in fog, to and from the breeding colonies. Industrial fisheries, environmental contaminants, oil exploration, tourism and disturbance are new real and potential threats to the marine bird populations in this region.

Celebrating the day

This is the second year that the staff of the bird station have organized the event for the locals living around the northernmost point on the European mainland. Since it was only ice and snow covering the wetland and nature reserve, the guided tour had to be done along the seashore. Many happy and interested participants gathered together in the small fishing village of Gamvik. The harbour is a good place to spot some of the Arctic bird specialities such as Steller’s Eiders, King Eiders, White-tailed Eagles, Glaucous- and Iceland Gulls. After a trip around the harbour we moved to the northernmost lighthouse (on the mainland) in the world, Slettnes lighthouse. The place is a good site if you want to spot different whale species and seals. Over 120 Grey Seals were roosting on a small islet. A few Harbour Seals were also relaxing in the sea.

Yellow-billed Diver

King Eider ducks

After a day in the field, the bird station staff invited visitors to a lecture on the subject of WWD 2003, "No wetlands – no water", in the local guesthouse in Gamvik. Together with posters, videos and a lot of information sent from the kind Ramsar staff, teaching about the international importance of wetlands, we also focused on the importance of the Norwegian wetlands and Ramsar sites. Even if we have some of the cleanest wetlands in the world, it’s always important to focus on conservation and possible threats.

The participants at 71 degrees North  - next to a fairly suspicious WWD flag!!!

More information

If you want to read more about the northern parts of Norway, Norwegian Ramsar sites and Slettnes Nature Reserve, please have a look at these web sites:

CIA – The World Factbook – Norway: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/no.html

Travel in Norway: http://www.visitnorway.com/;

Ramsar visit to Norway:  http://www.ramsar.org/w.n.norway_visit.htm

Slettnes Bird Station: http://home.online.no/~bwraanes/slettneseng/

Norwegian Ornithological Society – Finnmark county: http://www.geocities.com/egnter/e_finndex.htm

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