Kenya names fifth Ramsar site in the Rift Valley
The Secretariat is delighted to announce that the Republic of Kenya has designated its fifth Wetland of International Importance, Lake Elmenteita (10,880 hectares, 00°46'S 036°23'E), effective 5 September 2005. Ramsar's Lucia Scodanibbio notes that at the time of preparing its Ramsar Information Sheet for the new designation, the Kenya Wildlife Service took the opportunity to update Kenya's RISs for two other Ramsar sites, Lakes Naivasha and Nakuru, thus showing a strong commitment to fulfilling the Conference of the Parties' wish in Resolution VI.13 that data sheets on all Ramsar sites should be updated at least every six years. We encourage other Parties, when designating new sites, also to use the occasion to update the information on their other Ramsar sites as well. Lucia's description of the new site follows, based upon the RIS, and she has provided updated descriptions of Naivasha and Nakuru as well.
Lake Elmenteita. 05/09/05; Rift Valley Province; 10,880 ha; 00°46'S 036°23'E.
Located in Kenya's southern Rift Valley, this shallow saline, alkaline lake provides a favorable environment for diatoms and the blue-green alga Spirulina platensis, which lie at the basis of the food chain of several bird species. An average of over 610,000 birds have been counted in the area during the annual census, belonging to more than 450 species of which 80 are waterfowl. The lake acts as an important dispersal area for Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor), hosting an average of 28.5% of its world population and playing an especially important role when food is limited in other saline Rift Valley lakes like Nakuru and Bogoria. During the dry season, black lava islands situated in the western part of the lake provide the only suitable nesting and breeding grounds for Great White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) in the Rift Valley region. Local inhabitants depend on the hot springs around Chamka for domestic freshwater supply, subsistence irrigation and water for livestock. The nomadic Maasai also use the area as a grazing and salt-licking site for their livestock. Salt, sand and diatomite are mined from the site at both small and large-scale, but most of the riparian land around the site is reserved for biodiversity conservation. Tourism and recreational facilities in the site are an important foreign exchange earner and employer. The local community has formed various conservation committees and has established the Greater Lake Elmenteita Conservation Area as a community sanctuary and the Lake Elmenteita Community Ecotourism Project.
Lake Naivasha. 10/04/95; Rift Valley Province; 30,000 ha; 00º45'S 036º21'E.
Photo: Guy Erskine/Lake Naivasha Riparian Association
Located in a high altitude trough of the Rift Valley, this is one of the few freshwater lakes in the country (and eastern Africa). The site comprises a crater lake, river delta, and a separate lake dominated by blue-green algae and soda-tolerant plants. It also supports a complex vegetation of terrestrial (Acacia xanthophloea), riparian and littoral plants such as papyrus and Potamogeton, which in turn provide safe haven, foraging and breeding ground for many resident and migrant bird species, as well as other wildlife. Hundreds of hippopotamus and several species of large mammals including buffalo and waterbuck live in the riparian area. More than 350 species of waterbirds frequent the site, including 1% of the world population of Fulica cristata, 15,000 individuals. People depend on the lake for their water supply, and human activities include wildlife and livestock ranching, agriculture, tourism, pastoralism and fishing. Private game sanctuaries and conservation areas exist on the site. The most significant activity, however, is the intensive irrigated greenhouse floriculture and horticulture - Kenya is currently the leading exporter of cut flowers and Naivasha supplies about 75% of these. Although the sector employs thousands of Kenyans and significantly contributes to the GDP, it also poses a threat to the site's integrity due to pesticide and fertilizer use, removal of fringing swamps, and over-abstraction of water. Lake Naivasha Riparian Association (LNRA), which was one of the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award winners in 1999, has been at the forefront in finding lasting solutions to land use conflicts in collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other relevant government departments. Through these efforts, the Lake Naivasha Management Plan has been developed to guide the conservation of the lake's resources.
Lake Nakuru. 05/06/90; Rift Valley Province; 18,800 ha; 00º22'S 036º05'E. National Park
Lake Nakuru is a very shallow, strongly alkaline lake, with surrounding woodland and grassland set in a picturesque landscape within the Lake Nakuru National Park. It is fed by four seasonal rivers and the permanent Ngosur River, and shows one of the highest producer biomass among Kenya's southern Rift Valley alkaline lakes. A number of ecosystems including sedge marshes, seasonally flooded and dry grasslands, swampland riparian forests, and various types of scrubland support some globally endangered mammal species such as the black rhino and the hippo, as well as regionally endangered bird species like the African Darter (Anhinga rufa), Great Egret, the range-restricted Grey-crested Helmet-shrike, the Lesser kestrel and the Madagascar pond heron. The lake supports on average 24% of the Lesser Flamingo and 10% of the Greater Flamingo world populations. As the site is a national park, the only activity which takes place within it is tourism: over 300,000 local and foreign holiday makers visit the site annually, including school education groups. Archeological caves which were used by early man are found in the area. In the surroundings, agriculture is the largest land use activity: it ranges from small to large-scale farms and revolves around wheat, barley, maize, coffee and potato crops. Beef and dairy farming is also practiced in the area, some of which is for commercial production. The main threats within the site are linked to invasive plant species and fencing, which prevents animal migrations. Activities in the lake catchment are more significant, however, and include the expansion of Nakuru township, forestry and agricultural activities which worsen water quality and increase erosion and sedimentation. A number of projects and scientific research have looked at these problems and different measures are in place for current and future developments.