World Wetlands Day in Myanmar

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This year, World Wetland Day was celebrated in Myanmar at the Moeyungyi Ramsar Site, some 90 minutes by car north of the city of Yangon. The event was also an occasion to celebrate the re-opening of the visitor centre by the entrance of the site after it had been renovated with funding support from the Norwegian Environment Agency.

Government officials, including U Win Tun (Minister  of Environment Conservation and Forestry, MOECAF), U Nyan Win (Chief Minister, Bago Region) and U Wing Tin (Speaker of the Parliament of Bago Region) participated in the event.

U Win Tun, Minister of Environment Conservation and Forestry inside the visitor centre

The Moeyungyi Ramsar Site is a reservoir originally built in 1878 to provide an area for water transport and to relieve downstream flooding.  Over time, the site became important for providing water to the surrounding rice paddy and as a fishing ground for the local community, as well as being a wintering site for thousands of migratory waterbirds. In 1996, a private local tour company (SPA Tours), leased an area of land by the entrance of the site to develop it for tourism. The company built facilities including a series of boardwalks and viewpoints leading to a restaurant as well as to an accommodation area.  The company is presently planning to further develop the area for eco-tourism and this could be an exciting opportunity to work with the Ramsar Site management to ensure that the development is done in a sensitive manner and that the investment contributes to the conservation of the site and supports the livelihood of the local community.

The renovated visitor centre at the entrance to the Moeyungyi Ramsar Site

During his presentation at the World Wetlands Day celebrations, U Win Naing Thaw (Director, Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, MOECAF) listed the most important wetlands in the country, some of which are being considered for designation as Ramsar Sites.

One of these is the Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary in the northern part of the country for which a draft Ramsar Information Sheet has already been prepared. Indawgyi Lake is the third largest lake in mainland Southeast Asia and is still in a relatively natural condition partly due to its difficult access. Like Moeyungyi, the site is surrounded by rice paddies and the local community depends on the lake for water, transport and fisheries. NGOs such as Fauna and Flora International and Friends of Wildlife have been working closely with both the Departments of Forestry and of Fisheries, to develop community-based projects on sustainable tourism, forestry and fisheries. However, with the improvements in the lake’s accessibility by road expected in the coming years, tourism development plans have already been proposed.   If not planned sensitively, these developments would have serious impacts on Indawgyi Lake, as examples from other lakes in Myanmar have already shown. In addition, there are other concerns, particularly from gold mining in one part of the watershed outside of the proposed Ramsar Site, which is causing silt to be washed into the lake and possibly bringing with it pollutants associated with the mining industry.

Fisherman floating hut at Indawgyi Lake

In November 2013, a workshop was held with stakeholders from Indawgyi Lake, and a decision was made to establish a group to continue discussing how to address these threats and ensure the conservation of the lake.

U Htay Win, Park Warden of Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary

Report and photos by Lew Young, Senior Advisor for Asia-Oceania

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