Kazakhstan designates Lesser Aral Sea
The Ramsar Secretariat is delighted to announce that the government of Kazakhstan, in designating its 10th Wetland of International Importance, has named the Lesser Aral Sea and Delta of the Syrdarya River (330,000 hectares, 46°20’50”N 061°00’09”E). The site covers the eastern part of the Lesser Aral Sea, including Saryshyganak Bay and the mouth of the Syrdarya River, with a number of lakes at the northeastern end of the Aral Depression.
In spite of the ecological catastrophe of the shrinking of the Aral Sea in the 1960s, the area remains an important habitat for birds and other animals of the water-marsh complex. It is a feeding, breeding ground, and migration path for fish such as the critically endangered Fringebarbel Sturgeon and the Syrdarian Shovelnose Sturgeon, and there is a high level of fish endemism in the Syrdarya River Basin and Aral Sea. Mass nesting of birds such as the Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) and the Black Winged-silt (Himantopus himantopus) occur, and more than 200,000 waterbirds migrate through the site in autumn.
This large wetland feeds the subsoil waters of the large arid region and is critically important for local people as it is one of their only sources of subsistence. Thanks to ongoing government efforts, the water level in the Lesser Aral has been rising with a relative revival of fisheries and agricultural activities.
The designation was prepared by the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) - BirdLife Kazakhstan, with support of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Additional data for 2011 were provided by Executive Board of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea in the Republic of Kazakhstan (EB IFAS in the RK) in the framework of the project "Implementing Integrated Water Resources Management Systems in the Kazakh Aral Sea Basin: Practical National Steps: Monitoring of wetlands in Syrdarya delta" supported by The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The full Ramsar Information Sheet and map will be soon available on Wetlands International’s Ramsar Sites Information Service (http://ramsar.wetlands.org), and the new site can also be found on the Critical Site Network Tool (http://dev.unep-wcmc.org/csn/default.html) developed by Wetlands International, BirdLife International, and UNEP-WCMC as part of the Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) project.
Photos by Andrey Kovalenko.