Iranian site removed from the Montreux Record

Iranian site removed from the Montreux Record

17 July 2009

Removal from the Montreux Record:
Alagol, Ulmagol, Ajigol Ramsar site, Islamic Republic of Iran

The Alagol, Ulmagol and Ajigol lake complex (1400ha), Islamic Republic of Iran, comprises three small lakes and associated marshes situated in the semi-desert steppes at the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea near the border with Turkmenistan. In June 1975, this wetland was designated a Ramsar site because of its abundance and diversity of wintering waterbirds, a number of which are internationally threatened. In summer, the wetland also supports regionally significant populations of breeding waterbirds.

Ulmagol and Ajigol are easily accessible by road and lie close to two small villages. Prior to 1993, these two wetlands were under pressure from disturbance by waterbird hunters and also through over-harvesting. Alagol, on the other hand, is less accessible and so had a lower hunting pressure. However, Alagol was impacted by water extraction for irrigation and for a 500-hectare private fish hatchery which resulted in lower water levels, especially in summer. As a result of these threats, in June 1993 the site was placed on the Montreux Record "of Ramsar sites where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur".

Since being placed on the Montreux Record, the Department of Environment has taken a number of strategic and proactive steps to reducing the threats to this Ramsar site. These include:

  • Banning the carrying of firearms in and around the wetland because of its proximity to the border with Turkmenistan, and increasing patrols by Department of Environment (DoE) guards and border guards. As a result, there has been a three-fold increase in the arrests of illegal hunters since 2006 and such hunters have had their guns confiscated, and maybe even have received fines and prison sentences. Waterbird hunting was controlled throughout Iran in 2007 because of the discovery of avian influenza;
  • Controlling the abstraction of water from the wetlands for local agriculture and for the fish farm through an MOU between the DoE and the Water Authority;
  • Agreements being reached between Iran and Turkmenistan, and between the DoE and the Water Authority in Iran, to ensure that the necessary water flow reaches the rivers that feed the wetland.

In addition, the government of Iran has also improved the long-term conservation of the site through:

  • Developing closer inter-agency coordination, such as between DoE and the Water Authority, Jihad Agriculture, Natural Resources, Tourism Office, and the local Municipality;
  • Developing alternative livelihood schemes for the local community, such as better control of the wetland margins so that they can be used for managed grazing and fishing; setting aside an area of land adjacent to the wetlands for agriculture with water abstraction from the wetland only being allowed when water is sufficient; development of a low-intensity tourism/recreation facility at Ulmagol lake (and there are plans to train more local people to be involved in tourism activities. Ajigol and Alagol lakes will be reserved for birdwatching and education activities.)
  • Placing emphasis on increasing awareness about the Ramsar site, such as through World Wetlands Day celebrations; production of CEPA material in the local languages; organising visits by students to the wetland; meeting with the local villagers; and disseminating information about the wetlands using the media. This program has had a very positive impact, on making local people develop a stronger connection with, and awareness of the importance of the wetlands.

In the near-term, the DoE is now considering preparing a management plan for the site, as well as to gazette the wetland as a protected area so as to increase the level of protection from future developments.

As a result of the actions to control hunting, the biodiversity of the area has improved in terms of both species and habitats. Populations of wintering waterbirds are generally increasing including swans, flamingos and marsh harriers. Specifically, populations of globally threatened species, e.g. Oxyura leucocephala, Pelecanus crispus, Haliaetus albicilla, Anser erythropus and Aquila heliaca have all increased. With the water supply in the wetland being restored, the marginal wetland habitats around each wetland, particularly Alagol, have developed substantially in area.

Due to the improved conditions of the wetland, the government of Iran sent a report to the Ramsar Secretariat in November 2008 proposing that the site be taken off the Montreux Record, and this was strongly supported in the report by a Ramsar Advisory Mission (No. 60) to the site in May 2009.

The improvements to the site were achieved through the national and provincial budgets of the DOE, and an increasingly high level of cooperation with other governmental stakeholders, and with the local communities and NGOs. The DOE are therefore to be warmly congratulated for all that has been achieved and for their ambitious future plans for the wise use and conservation of this important Ramsar site.

-- Lew Young, Ramsar