Removal of two Algerian Ramsar sites from the Montreux Record

07/09/2009

The Secretariat congratulates the government of Algeria for the efforts made towards the removal of Ramsar sites Oasis de Ouled Saïd (Site no. 1060) and Réserve Intégrale du Lac Tonga (Site no. 281) from the Montreux Record of Ramsar sites under threat.

Oasis de Ouled Saïd (25,400 hectares) is an underrepresented wetland type amongst others on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance in that it is a man-made wetland. In the water scarce harsh environment in which it is found, it plays a critical role in supporting migratory birds, ungulates such as gazelles, and other endangered species. This oasis is also vital for supporting the livelihoods of the local community through date production.

In order to overcome the challenges posed by the lack of water resources, this wetland is maintained through the use of fouggaras, a traditional system of small open canals used to draw and distribute water equitably amongst the community.

The Algerian authorities requested that this site be included in the Montreux Record at the time of designation in 2001 as they felt that there was a need for special intervention to deal with the challenges facing it; namely, a lack of financial resources to stabilize the nearby sand dunes which were leading to encroachment of sand into the oasis, lack of financial resources to ensure maintenance of the fouggaras, loss of numerous palms, especially those of the local variety, and drought resulting in the overall reduction of water resources.

Through the contributions of WWF-International, the MAVA Foundation, the Ramsar Secretariat, the forestry fepartment, the Ouled Saїd town hall and the inhabitants of the Oasis, a rehabilitation and restoration project has been implemented since 2002. The objective to find a solution to the problem of encroachment was fully achieved through the effective execution of the activities noted below:

1.       Putting up a traditional fence/live-hedge made of dry palms surrounding the ‘Oasis de Ouled Saїd’ site, and employing qualified workers recruited from the local community in order to terminate the process of encroachment at this site.
2.       Construction of a well equipped with two pumps (one manual and the other electrical), to supply water to the two basins that had to be constructed and repaired, and which had to be used for irrigation of the forest plantation, with the aim of strengthening the dry palm fence/live hedge.
3.       A forest plantation with ‘tamaris’ behind the previously constructed dry palm hedge, serving as a wind-break and thus preventing drifting sand.

With further investment from the Ministry of Water Resources, a programme has been developed to rehabilitate the fouggaras.

Ramsar site Réserve Intégrale du Lac Tonga (2,700 ha, designated in 1983) is part of a mosaic of wetlands including sea inlets, lakes, rivers, Scirpus marshes, dune slacks and alder thickets found in the El Kala National Park. This complex of wetlands is recognized as one of the four major wetland complexes in the Western Mediterranean.

Its addition to the Ramsar list is due to the fact that it justifies several Criteria, namely 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. These include its support to the rich and varied population of breeding, passage and wintering birds such as Circus aeruginosus and Marmaronetta angustirostris amongst others, as well as support to mammals such as the Otter (Lutra lutra), The Barbary stag (Cervus elaphus barbarus) etc.

In terms of providing support to the income generating and other livelihood activities of the local community, this lake is the main source of the fish and eel stocks on which they are dependent.

The site was included in the Montreux Record due to the challenges it faced from the period of dryness faced by the country during a period of over 10 years, exacerbated by anthropogenic influences through excessive hunting, discharge of sewage leading to congestion of water channels by vegetation, excessive extraction of water when flow is low, and repeated fires in the catchment, leading to further exposure of bare soils.  

Following the end of the ten-year period of drought, the ecosystem’s natural functions returned to their optimum levels and the anthropogenic threats were addressed through implementation of the recommendations from the Ramsar Advisory Mission carried out in 1990, and through the development of a management plan for the ‘El Kala’ National Park and wetlands supported by the GEF/FEM project. This management plan addresses the anthropogenic threats through stipulations such as:

1.       Agricultural irrigation is strictly regulated and presently only permitted for the nearby riverine populations (initial inhabitants),
2.       Eel fishing has been regulated to a definite surface area, 2.5 ha, accompanied by strict book-keeping.

Once again we offer our sincere congratulations to the Algerian authorities, local communities and all other stakeholders involved in restoring the ecological character of these Ramsar sites. Through continued effective implementation of the Ramsar Convention principles, both should continue to flourish as they are at present.

The Montreux Record is "a record of Ramsar sites where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur" (Resolution 4.8, 1990) and is maintained by the Secretariat in consultation with the Contracting Parties concerned. The Record presently has 52 Ramsar sites inscribed, following these two removals.

-- Cynthia Kibata,
Assistant Advisor for Africa

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