International  Seminar at Lake Sevan, Armenia, 15-17 September, 2003

International  Seminar at Lake Sevan, Armenia, 15-17 September, 2003

17 October 2003
Current issues of conservation and wise use of wetlands and wetland biodiversity in the European New Independent States
Seminar at Lake Sevan Ramsar site

The Armenian Ministry of Nature Protection and the NGO “Professional and Entrepreneurial Orientation Union” organized a seminar from 15-17 September 2003 at the shores of lake Sevan Ramsar Site (489,100 ha) on the theme Current issues of conservation and wise use of wetlands and wetland biodiversity in the European New Independent States, with financial support from Ramsar’s Small Grants Fund and USAID (via Lakenet). The meeting was opened by Armenia’s Minister for Nature Conservation, Vardan Ayvazyan, and brought together 64 wetland and Ramsar experts from Armenia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Lithuania, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine, as well as representatives of the Ramsar Bureau, Lakenet, UNDP, BirdLife International, Wetlands International, WWF Caucasus Programme Office, and the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC).

The meeting was successfully organized by a committee around Ramsar’s Standing Committee member Karén Jenderedjian. It provided a useful test for subregional meetings to exchange and discuss current Ramsar topics and their relationship to the socio-economic reality of countries in transition. The mix of conservation experts from western countries, central European EU accession countries and Central Asian states prepared the ground for fruitful exchanges of information and experience. In this part of the world, Russian is still an important lingua franca. Thus, for those few participants without sufficient knowledge of this language, ad hoc interpretation was provided to ease communication and exchanges.

After an introduction to the seminar objectives and a short presentation of the Ramsar challenges emanating from COP8, to place wetlands at the heart of sustainable development, the audience heard several case studies about ongoing major programmes, such as the conservation of biodiversity in the Caucasus region, global action on peatlands, the trilateral Ramsar initiative in the Morava-Dyie floodplains and presentations of different national projects and plans. A poster session encouraged personal bilateral exchanges and provided an opportunity to learn about activities so far unknown to many. Abstracts of the different presentations can be found on the Lakenet website.  On several occasions during the seminar, the participants split into three parallel workshops to discuss in further detail: 1) conventions and international cooperation, 2) Ramsar Site and wetland conservation, and 3) wise use of wetland resources.

During a two-hour boat trip, the participants had the opportunity to get somewhat acquainted with Armenia’s large Sevan lake (124,000 ha). This was followed by a day-long excursion (photos below) around the lake to learn more about water management, how to deal with Soviet infrastructure heritage, and how to bring biodiversity conservation in line with urgent economic development imperatives in a Low Income Country. The participants had a look at the National Park museum in Sevan town and at several historic monuments and churches. Because of rainfall and cold wind, they took their picnic inside a room at a fish farm, recently converted to produce crayfish for export. At the upper end of lake Sevan, they had a short glimpse at the polderised fields where former lake Gilly used to be. The good news is that this area will now be restored to become again a functioning wetland ecosystem, with support from GEF.

In essence, the meeting was full of exchanges of news, information and know-how amongst a number of highly qualified and motivated people. The value of receiving first-hand information during such occasions cannot be underestimated. In this sense, it may well have been a life-scale test for upcoming regional and sub-regional meetings to prepare for COP9.

Photos of the excursion on and around Lake Sevan:

On 17 September the participants took a short trip with the National Park ship (below, top) on Lake Sevan, with the Ramsar Bureau very briefly at the helm (below, left), and V. Sasnouki (Belarus), A. Bektemirov (Kyrgyz Republic), A. Kozulin (Belarus) and T. Minayeva (Russian Federation) (below, right) in concentrated discussion:

The following day things got serious with a round-the-lake trip (c.200 km) to learn about the management problems of this largest Ramsar Site in the Caucasus region. In a mostly arid country such as Armenia, the climatic and hydrological functions of a large lake like Sevan cannot be underestimated. Furthermore, the lake (situated at 1900 m above sea level) is surrounded by historical heritage (churches and monuments) and provides an important attraction for tourism and recreation, especially during the summer months that are extremely hot in the capital Yerevan and the Armenian lowlands:

Unfortunately, during the seminar, the warm summer season was already over, and cold winds were sweeping clouds and rain over the lake basin (left), wetting the grasslands (right), one of the many different wetland habitats along the lake shore:

A picnic (right) was enjoyed in the shelter of the house of a fish farm (left) that has recently started producing crayfish for export, a new hope of income after the collapse of the Soviet production systems:

During deteriorating weather, last stops were made at the upper end of the lake where Masrik river flows into lake Sevan (below, left) and at the polderised zone of the former lake Gilli (below, right), for which preparations for a wetland restoration project have recently been approved by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

-- reported by Tobias Salathé, Ramsar Bureau