Kazakhstan names large inland delta


The government of Kazakhstan has designated as its ninth Wetland of International Importance the important Ili River Delta and South Lake Balkhash (976,630 hectares, 45°35'52"N 074°44'17"E) in the southern part of the country amid the Sary-Esik-Otrau and Taukum desert areas. As described by Ramsar's Saber Masoomi, based on the site's Ramsar Information Sheet, the Ili River Delta is the largest remaining natural delta on an inland lake in Central Asia. It supports 10 inland wetland types including permanent inland delta, freshwater lake, rivers, streams and creeks, and seasonal or intermittent freshwater lakes. The site provides a rich variety of desert flora (427 species) and fauna (345 species) and supports a range of threatened species, including 25 bird, 1 fish, and 3 mammal species. Important threatened species include the Goitered Gazelle, Marbeled Polecat, White-headed Duck, Red-breasted Goose, and Ship Sturgeon. More than 70,000 birds have been counted at the site, including greater than 1% of the global population of 8 bird species, such as the Dalmatian Pelican.

Balkash Lake and the Ili River Delta are important fishery water bodies and the floodplains in the area provide productive haying lands and good pastures. The site is threatened by a 30% reduction in the water inflow due to the construction of the Kapchagai hydroelectric station and creation of the Akdaly irrigation unit.

The Ramsar Site is within the borders of 3 State Nature Reserves (Balkhash, Karroy, and Kukan) and is managed under the authority of the Altyn-Emel State National Nature Park; it comprises a larger western area of 927,565 hectares, parts of the Balkhash and Karroy Reserves, and a smaller eastern part with the Kukan Reserve of 49,000 ha. It was one of 25 case studies of Ramsar transboundary wetland ecosystems described in the recent publication, the Second Assessment of transboundary rivers, lakes and groundwaters, launched by the UN Economic Commission for Europe's Water Convention Secretariat in September 2011 (see our news feature here).

Preparations for the designation of the new Ramsar Site were assisted by the WWF International Freshwater Programme and WWF Central Asia Programme.

Kazakhstan presently has 9 wetland sites on the Ramsar List, covering 2,951,398 hectares.

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