Algeria reaches 42 Wetlands of International Importance


Algeria names an additional 16 Ramsar sites

Although the Republic of Algeria joined the Ramsar Convention in 1983, prior to the year 2000 there were only three Wetlands of International Importance in the country. Between 2001 and 2003, however, a greatly renewed interest in the Convention within the Direction Générale des Forêts and the active support of WWF's Global Freshwater Programme brought about the designation of an additional 23 Ramsar sites and the production of atlases of Algerian wetlands and Ramsar sites. In late 2004, an additional 16 new sites were designated and are now ready for adding to the Ramsar List, bringing Algeria's total number of Ramsar sites to 42, covering a surface area of 2,959,615 hectares.

On the occasion of these new designations, the fourth edition of a very well-illustrated Atlas of Algeria's Wetlands of International Importance was produced. It is hoped that with this awareness tool, more and more citizens, decision-makers and professionals will realize the extent and richness of the country's natural heritage and that this will contribute to the wise use of these wetland areas. Recognition is given to the fact that management of these sites needs to happen within a legal framework protecting wetlands against indiscriminate developments; rationalizing economic activities taking place within wetlands; promoting rehabilitation and restoration of sites; and with the cooperation and participation of the private sector and user groups.

The designations and production of the Atlas, which stand as a proof of Algeria's commitment to a development in line with environmental protection, were possible with the support of the MAVA Foundation for Nature Protection and WWF's Global Freshwater Programme.

The sites, located in the centre-north of the country, are mainly brackish lakes surrounded by salt-loving vegetation, which play a very important role for migratory and wintering avifauna. The areas surrounding these wetlands are important from a socio-economic point of view, too, providing grazing pastures for cattle and sheep and land for cereal cultivation. Brief descriptions of the new sites are available below.

We again congratulate the Republic of Algeria for being one of the leaders in the Afro-Mediterranean region in its efforts towards the implementation of the Ramsar Convention.

-- Lucia Scodanibbio, Ramsar Assistant Advisor for Africa

Chott Aïn El Beïda. 12/12/04; Ouargla; 6,853 ha; 31°58'N 005°22'E. A saline depression surrounded by palm plantations, crossed by a number of canals that drain excess water from the plantations and the nearby town. Several bird species on the Eurasian-African pathway use the site as a stopover; some winter there, such as the Ruddy Shelduck, and others nest there, including the Black-winged Stilt and the Pied Avocet. A number of mammals also occur at the site, but these still remain largely unknown. The vegetation is Saharo-Mediterranean belonging to 12 families, the most represented of which is the Chenopodiaceae. Of note is Zygophyllum cornutum for its medical properties against gastric ailments and which should benefit from special protection measures due to over-harvesting. Pollution from wastewater is the main threat to the avifauna of the site. A project is currently underway to elaborate a management plan for the site, which also hopes to increase awareness through the construction of an eco-museum, a visitors' centre, bird watchtowers and educational campaigns. Ramsar site no. 1414.

Chott El Beïdha - Hammam Essoukhna. 12/12/04; Sétif, Batna; 12,223 ha; 35°55'N 005°45'E. A brackish, temporary lake surrounded by a meadow composed of halophytic species; during the dry season salt encrustations occupy a large part of the site. It is important for the wintering of two species, Tadorna tadorna and Phoenicopterus ruber, which have been represented in relatively high proportions in recent years, though rarely exceeding the 1% threshold due to the fact that several other wetlands occur nearby. The lake plays a role in sediment retention and flood control during years of exceptional rains, and is an important grazing area for sheep that can feed on the Atriplex spp. It also holds an archaeological interest thanks to the presence of shell-middens, mounds up to 150m-long and 10m-high which contain tools, bones, ash and snail shells which date back to the Capsian civilization, ca.7,000 BC. In the site's surroundings there are cereal and other cultivations, and some forestry activities further south. The problems of erosion and desertification recently became evident, and the elaboration of a management plan is seen as the only solution towards achieving the wise use of the site. Ramsar site no. 1415.

Chott Oum El Raneb. 12/12/04; Ouargla; 7,155 ha, 32°02'N 005°22'E. A wetland fed by wastewater from five settlements in the district, surrounded by sand dunes, an important refuge for migratory waterbirds crossing the desert on the Eurasian-African routes. Phoenicopterus ruber is the symbol of this site, being present in significant numbers and nesting there. Himantopus himantopus also nests here, while other species present include Anas and Tadorna spp. and Plegadis falcinellus, Ardea cinerea and Egretta garzetta. The site was used for salt-works in the past, but today one only finds palm plantations in the area. Pollution from wastewater is a concern for the future, and a study is currently being undertaken to look into the possibility of installing a purification plant. The site is also used for environmental education purposes, with the use of videos and brochures. Ramsar site no. 1416.

Chott Sidi Slimane. 12/12/04; Ouargla; 616 ha; 33°17'N 003°45'E. A wetland surrounded by palm trees and a dense reed bed that is an important refuge for migratory and sedentary waterbirds. The site hosts more than 1% of the vulnerable Marbled Teal's biogeographic population. The Phragmites beds provide a nesting site for species like Fulica atra, Gallinula chloropus and Porphyrio porphyrio. The water body is important for the local population as it allows excess water from the palm cultivations to be drained there. The date palms constitute local people's main livelihood. The tourism potential of the area still remains unexploited despite the site's natural beauty and its faunal and floral richness. Ramsar site no. 1417.

Chott Tinsilt. 12/12/04; Oum El Bouaghi; 2,154 ha; 35°53'N 006°29'E. A shallow brackish lake fed by rainwater, runoff and wastewater from the town Souk Naâmane, surrounded by Tamarix and Salicornia species. The area is an important wintering site for waterbirds, especially Tadorna tadorna, Anas penelope and the flamingo, which are present in significant numbers. There is potential for salt harvesting in the area and livestock pass through it. Cereal and vegetable cultivation at subsistence and industrial level occur outside the site. Uncontrolled hunting, pollution from wastewater, erosion and water diversion for irrigation are the main threats. At the moment there are no protection measures in place, although there is a felt need given the presence of important avifauna visiting the site and the potential to carry out research on nesting birds, saline soils and associated vegetation. There are two universities nearby, one of which has a postgraduate course on wetland conservation, and it is thus likely that research in the area will increase. Ramsar site no. 1418.

Dayet El Ferd. 12/12/04; Tlemcen; 3,323 ha; 34°28'N 001°15'W. A permanent endorrheic depression with brackish water, surrounded by pastures and cereal fields and situated between two mountain chains. It plays a very important role for wintering waterbirds, especially waders, having hosted an average of more than 20,000 birds between 2003 and 2005. The Ruddy Shelduck is the species which best characterizes the site as it spends the whole year there, while all of the Anatidae (ducks, geese, and swans) and grebes present in Algeria occur at this site. It was once the site where taxes paid by caravans were collected; today it hosts a weekly market, which makes it an ideal site for combining ecotourism and scientific and cultural research. There are plans to transform the site into a nature reserve to be linked to the National Park of Tlemcen. The only activity taking place in the surroundings is agriculture, with some water extraction from the lake. Ramsar site no. 1419.

Garaet Annk Djemel et El Merhsel. 12/12/04; Oum El Bouaghi; 18,140 ha; 35°47'N 006°51'E. A saltwater lake surrounded by a belt of Salicornia, Artemisia and Atriplex vegetation, fed by temporary rivers and precipitation/runoff. During summer the high evaporation rates lead to the creation of salt encrustations, which are appreciated habitats by some bird species. The site hosts the vulnerable Marbled Teal, as well as over 12% of the biogeographic population of Tadorna tadorna and over 2% of Phoenicopterus ruber's population. The site plays an important role in flood control and sediment capture. The local population harvests salt and, in the surrounding of the site, practices agriculture and raises livestock. No scientific, touristic or educational activity takes place, but there is potential for creation of environmental awareness by green clubs and school groups. Ramsar site no. 1420.

Garaet El Taref. 12/12/04; Oum El Bouaghi; 33,460 ha; 35°41'N 007°08'E. A large basin which is three-quarters dry and salt-encrusted, surrounded by halophytes such as Artemisia and Salicornia spp. An important wintering area for waterbirds, the site hosts nearly 10% of the Greater Flamingo's biogeographic population, approximately 4% of Grus grus' and 4.5% of the Common Shelduck's. Several Anas species, the Tufted Duck and the Common Coot also winter at the site. Agriculture and livestock raising are the main revenue-generating activities in the area. Overgrazing and land reclamation are, however, threatening the site in the absence of regulations on land-use. It is hoped that, given the site's importance for waterbirds and its designation as a Ramsar site, new conservation measures will be applied and it will proceed to be classified as a natural ornithological reserve. Ramsar site no. 1421.

Garaet Guellif. 12/12/04; Oum El Bouaghi; 24,000 ha; 35°47'N 006°59'E. An endorrheic brackish water depression with high evaporation levels, with shores that have salt encrustations and Salicornia species growing on them. The site hosts the vulnerable Marbled Teal, as well as several small mammal species and high plant diversity. It is an important wintering area for waterbirds, hosting more than 1% of the biogeographic populations of Phoenicopterus ruber and the Common Shelduck, as well as smaller proportions of the common crane and several Anas species. The lake plays an important role in flood control and adsorption of sediments. Cereal cultivation and raising of sheep and cows are the main economic activities taking place, while poaching and overgrazing are the main threats. The Oum El Bouaghi University has undertaken some research at the site, given its graduate programme on wetlands, while the area is also used for educational purposes by green clubs and for celebrations like World Wetlands Day. Ramsar site no. 1422.

Lac de Télamine. 12/12/04; Oran, 2,399 ha, 35°43'N 000°23'E. A brackish lake belonging to a group of wetlands in western Algeria that form an important complex for the wintering and passage of migratory birds, especially Anas and Tadorna species, which occur in significant numbers. The species present share the different habitats, such as sandy shores, open water, salt encrusted areas, and vegetation. Several raptors are also found in the area, as they feed on rodents, birds and insects among the surrounding cultivations. Agriculture and grazing are the main land uses outside the site, which is also used for environmental celebrations like World Wetlands Day and World Environment Day. Ramsar site no. 1423.

Les Salines d'Arzew. 12/12/04; Oran, Mascara; 5,778 ha; 35°40'N 000°18'E. A saline wetland forming part of western Algeria's wetland complex, which includes marshes, salt-lakes and brackish lakes and together play an important role as a stopover for migratory birds and wintering site for the Common and Ruddy Shelducks, the Greater Flamingo and the Greylag Goose. The birds take advantage of the open water, reeds and sandy habitats, stopping by both ways. The site plays a role in groundwater recharge and sediment retention. 80,000 tonnes of salt are produced yearly at the site, while agriculture and livestock raising are also practiced. No particular threat has been identified, nor are any special conservation measures in place. The area is used for awareness creation on celebrations like World Wetlands Days. Ramsar site no. 1425.

Oglat Ed Daïra. 12/12/04; Nâama; 23,430 ha; 33°18'N 001°48'W. A seasonal, brackish lake fed by temporary rivers and surrounded by Tamarix, Juncus and Carex spp, the site is located in an arid, steppe area. It hosts two endemic, protected animal (Gazella gazella and Chlamydotis undulata) and plant species (Saccocalyx saturoides and Convolvus supinus), as well as numerous other mammal, reptile and bird species. The avifauna finds an important oasis in this area both during migration and for wintering, with some 19 species, including the Ruddy Shelduck, nesting at the site. The lake plays an important role in groundwater recharge and sediment trapping. It is also important in its educational role, as many school groups, as well as the general public, visit the site to learn about the importance and protection of wetlands in the steppe environment. Animal raising, especially sheep, is the main occupation of the local population, but this is causing erosion, over-abstraction of water, and deforestation in the area. Some counter-measures have included reforestation activities with fruit trees and windbreaks. A GEF/UNDP project is currently assisting in further conservation activities and in the elaboration of a management plan. Ramsar site no. 1426.

Réserve intégrale du Lac El Mellah. 12/12/04; El Tarf; 2,257 ha; 36°53'N 008°20'E. UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. A lagoon, linked by a 900m-long canal to the sea, that is part of the El Kala complex of wetland depressions. The site also comprises a small brackish delta with Salicornia and Juncus spp. and a smaller temporary freshwater lake which is fed by precipitation and groundwater and surrounded by a complex of sand dunes. The site is important for numerous waterbirds that use it as a staging and resting site during their migration, feeding site taking advantage of the abundant supplies of fish, invertebrates and bivalves, or nesting site. The salinity gradient and high productivity in the lagoon contributes to high phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish biodiversity, and it acts as a nursery and growing site for especially eels, before they travel to the Sargasso Sea. Thus its most important socio-economic role is in the provision of employment for fishermen. Local people also grow peanuts and raise livestock, which has caused over-grazing in some areas. With Ramsar sites Lacs Oubeïra and Tonga, El Mellah is part of the El Kala Biosphere Reserve. Ramsar site no. 1424.

Sebkhet Bazer. 12/12/04; Sétif; 4,379 ha; 36°05'N 005°41'E. An endorrheic, permanent saltwater depression, fed by precipitation and domestic and industrial wastewater carried by three tributaries from the surrounding town of El Eulma. Typha and Juncus reeds form an important habitat around the mouth of the El Melah river into the lake, which is important for a number of nationally threatened bird species, such as Himantopus himantopus, Anser anser, Circus aeruginosus, Grus grus and Recurvirostra avosetta. The site also hosts more than 1% of the Common Shelduck's biogeographic population, showing the importance of saline conditions for some wintering species. The area is used for grazing animals and has touristic potential for birdwatchers. Industrial wastewater could threaten the site in future, and there are plans to build a purification plant to ensure the site's integrity. School groups visit the site on World Wetlands Day to learn about the environment and its protection. Ramsar site no. 1427.

Sebkhet El Hamiet. 12/12/04; Sétif; 2,509 ha; 35°55'N 005°33'E. A temporary, shallow brackish wetland composed of two main habitats: the open saltwater lake, called sebkha, and the chott, a peripheral zone with a haline vegetation meadow. The site plays an important role for wintering waterbirds like the Common Shelduck, Philomachus pugnax, Charadrius and Larus spp. Livestock raising is the main economic activity for the local population, while outside the site agriculture (cereals and vegetables) is also practiced. Waste disposal and pollution from both domestic and industrial sources are the main problems around the site. A management plan needs to be elaborated and implemented by the different stakeholders, as conservation activities are currently very limited and undertaken haphazardly. Ramsar site no. 1428.

Sebkhet El Melah. 12/12/04; Ghardaia; 18,947 ha; 30°25'N 002°55'E. A important site for the conservation of Mediterranean and central Saharan biodiversity, thanks to its variety of habitats, which cater to different species. Two freshwater and saltwater bodies host different reptiles and amphibians; the Tamarix forest supports fish, crustacean and bird species; the dunes host small mammals and reptiles; while different algae, grasses and reeds are found throughout the site. The area's high productivity, caused by the high temperatures and consequently high decomposition rates, contributes to making this site significant for the reproduction and raising of chicks of several waterbirds. It hosts more than 1% of the biogeographic populations of Tadorna ferruginea and Aythya nyroca. Ancient graves can be found in the area, while the cliffs have been found to contain marine paleontological remains. Limited agricultural activities occur in the site, while in its surroundings there are palm cultivations organized under cooperatives. Waste disposal, human expansion and poaching are the main threats to the site. A management plan and classification as a nature reserve are foreseen. Ramsar site no. 1429.

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2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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