Kazakhstan’s 6th Ramsar site in 2009
The government of Kazakhstan has designated its sixth new Wetland of International Importance in the year 2009, complementing its first Ramsar site, which was originally listed by the Soviet Union back in 1976. “Alakol-Sasykkol Lakes System” (914,663 hectares, 46°16’N 081°32’E) is a State Nature Reserve in the far east of the country – it’s Kazakhstan’s largest reserve for nesting wetland birds and a major migratory stop, with over a hundred thousand waterbirds and semi-aquatic birds stopping annually.
According to Ramsar’s Ann Aldersey, summarizing the Ramsar Information Sheet that accompanied the designation letter, the system is located in an ancient tectonic depression and comprises 529 river-fed lakes, ranging from saline to fresh water, providing highly diverse habitat for 342 bird species, including 11 internationally threatened species, 203 nesting bird species, and appreciable numbers of moulting waterfowl during summer.
Humid, desert, lowland, and mountainous types of habitats are located in very close proximity, and the site is characterized broadly as having five vegetation types: desert, meadow, forest, submerged aquatic, and shrubs. Overlaying significant groundwater resources, the Lakes System also hosts a large variety of endemic and relict plant and fish species, as well as two internationally Vulnerable mammal species (Vormela peregusna and Gazella subgutturosa). The three largest lakes are important fisheries, with annual assessment of optimum catch quotas.
The lakes attract many visitors during the summer months, and a viewing tower and visitor centre are planned for construction. Their ecological character is affected by illegal hunting and fishing, uncontrolled water extraction, cattle grazing, recreation, and fires.