Myanmar designates the Gulf of Mottama as a Wetland of International Importance. The Gulf of Mottama is one of the world’s most dynamic estuaries and the largest area of mudflats making it of outstanding global conservation value. The announcement comes on the 10th of May, the World Migratory Bird Day, as the newly designated Ramsar Site supports annually 150,000 migratory water birds.
The 45,000-hectare site stretches from the mouth of the Sittaung River along the eastern shore of the estuary in Mon State. The gulf’s high productivity, fed by sediments and nutrients from three major rivers, supports abundant invertebrates that provide food for up to 150,000 migratory water birds in the non-breeding season. The gulf is one of the world’s most important wintering areas for the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, hosting probably more than half of the remaining global population in the world during wintering season. The site also supports the livelihoods of tens of thousands fishers.
“I am very pleased that this very important designation of the Gulf of Mottama comes today on the World Migratory Bird Day and I congratulate Myanmar for its collaborative and inclusive approach while designating this important Site", said Ramsar Secretary General, Martha Rojas-Urrego. "The Ramsar Convention delivers a key mechanism of designating Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites) and currently nearly 50% of all Ramsar Sites covering almost 120 million hectares of wetland worldwide have been specifically designated as key sites for migratory water birds. This represents a huge contribution to biodiversity conservation and to achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity thus consequently a significant contribution to other global agendas such as sustainable development goals."
“The Ramsar Convention Secretariat is very pleased to see the designation of the eastern edge of the Gulf of Mottama as a Wetland of International Importance. This site is one of the largest mudflats globally and these ecosystems are being degraded throughout the world through reclamation and development. As a result of this designation, Myanmar has shown their international commitment to conserving those valuable ecosystems and the services they provide for both people and the environment. We are also pleased to see that local communities are part of the process, considering the importance of the site for local livelihoods.” said Lew Young, Senior Advisor for Asia-Oceania at the Ramsar Convention Secretariat.
The Gulf of Mottama is also under threat. Fish catch has declined by 50%-90% over the past ten years, the result of over-fishing, often due to use of illegal nets. Small-scale fishers are being forced to look for work in other sectors, or migrate. If no action is taken, fish catch and the coastal economy will decline further. Wintering birds are still threatened by hunting.
Consultations with local government and communities have been held and supported the designation of the site. The local government, with support from the union government, took steps to develop a local governance mechanism from the site, led by the state government, and including local authorities (state and townships levels) communities, academics and private sector. The site is also receiving assistance from various projects supporting the management of fisheries and the conservation of habitats and biodiversity through the development of a coastal management plan covering the coasts of Mon state and Bago and including the Ramsar Site. This management plan will be an important milestone to ensure a long term vision and coordinated approach for the wise use of this unique area.
Organizations/entities invloved in the designation process and management planning are: the Mon State government, the Forest Department, the Community-Led Coastal Management in the Gulf of Mottama Project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), HELVETAS - a Swiss NGO - in cooperation with IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and two local NGOs, Network Activities Group (NAG) and Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA).
About Myanmar’s wetlands
Myanmar is home to an extraordinary diversity of wetlands, from mountainous wetlands, large freshwater wetlands and lakes to coastal wetlands like mangroves, mudflats, and coral reefs. These ecosystems provide a wide range of food, water supply, flood protection, and other ecosystem goods and services that underpin local livelihoods and the environment.
Despite these benefits, wetlands are under enormous pressure. Globally, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 40% of 1,000 wetlands sampled were lost between 1970 and 2008. Research also shows a 76% loss of freshwater species in wetlands between 1980 and 2010. Myanmar’s wetlands are also threatened by unsustainable water extraction, agricultural encroachment, over-fishing, and invasive alien species that reduce their capacity to support human development.
To better protect its wetlands, Myanmar ratified the Ramsar Convention in 2005. Established in 1971, the Ramsar Convention, the world's oldest global environmental agreement, is an international treaty for the conservation and wise (sustainable) use of wetlands. Through the convention, and following a set of criteria, countries identify wetlands of “international importance” and designate them as Ramsar sites and commit to ensure their management and sustainable use, jointly with the communities which depend upon them. Globally, 2,265 wetlands have been nominated as Ramsar sites.
In Myanmar, three sites were designated: Moeyungyi Wetlands Wildlife Sanctuary in Bago Region, the Indawgyi Wildlife Sanctuary in Kachin State and the Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary in the Ayeyarwady Delta.