Peru Names Four New Ramsar Sites

Peru Names Four New Ramsar Sites

6 February 1997

The Government of Perú has designated four new sites, with effect from 20 January 1997. The inclusion of these sites results from a project funded by the Ramsar Small Grants Fund, carried out by the Centro de Datos para la Conservación (Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina), and is a joint effort of all the members of the Programa de Conservación y Desarrollo Sostenido de Humedales del Perú, which acts as National Ramsar Committee of Perú. Here's a report on their many virtues:

Lago Titicaca, Peruvian sector (15.50 S, 69.30 W)

Situated in the "altiplano" or "Puna" of the central Andes, and shared by Perú and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable freshwater lake, at 3810 m above sea level. This new Ramsar site includes the Peruvian sector of the permanent freshwater lake, with associated marshes and extensive areas of emergent aquatic vegetation. The total area included by Perú is 460.000 hectares (total lake surface approximately 830.000 ha). The maximum depth is 283 meters.

Algae and submergent and floating vegetation is abundant, and the dominant emergent species is the "totora" Schoenoplectus tatora which can reach up to seven meters. When the "totora" drifts away from the shore, it forms islands which are used by some members of the Uro community to live on. Most of them are fishermen and hunters, but they also make crafts to sell. There are a number of endemic fish species (of the genus Orestias), and it is an extremely important wetland for Andean waterfowl and migratory shorebirds, as well as for three species of flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis, Phoenicoparrus andinus and Phoenicoparrus jamesii).

The Ramsar site includes the Titicaca National Reserve (36.180 hectares), a sector of the Aymara-Lupaka Reserved Zone (300.000 ha), some private lands and several human settlements. Subsistence fishing and use of the "totora" -- managed by the local rural communities exclusively -- are the main uses of the lake’s resources. In the surrounding areas of the lake, agriculture (potato, barley, "quinua") and farming (sheep, llama and alpaca) are practiced.

The main threat to the lake ecosystem is pollution, due to lack of sewage treatment in the area around the city of Puno, and industrial and mining pollution in the Juliaca town area -- both are being tackled by the Ministries of Industry, Energy and Mines, Health, Fisheries and Agriculture. Another very serious problem is the introduction of several exotic fish species which compete with native ones, displacing them in most cases. In years of drought, when the water level drops, local people cut and burn the areas of "totora" to open land for animal grazing. Another potential problem is the increasing volume of boat traffic on the lake, with associated disturbance (wave erosion, pollution, noise).

There are several important initiatives to save this unique lake. Perú and Bolivia, through the Proyecto Especial Binacional Lago Titicaca, are implementing the Plan Director Global Binacional (for conservation, flood prevention and use of resources), and are carrying out research, environmental management and monitoring, public use, environmental education, and fisheries development programs, including the regulation of water use for agriculture and human consumption. There are also programs for soil restoration and recovery of traditional agriculture techniques in nearby areas.

Lake Junín (11.00 S, 76.08 W)

This site is known locally as Chinchaycocha, in Quechua, and the Spaniards called it Lake of the Kings. It is the second in importance in Perú, in size as well as biologically and socioeconomically. At 4,080-4,125 meters above sea level, the National Reserve of Lake Junín (entirely included as a Ramsar site) covers a total of 53,000 ha of which almost 40,000 ha correspond to the lake and associated marshes.

Lake Junín is a shallow (up to 12.5 m), permanent freshwater Puna lake, which is part of the Amazon catchment area. At the outflow of the lake, through the river Upamayo, there is a hyodroelectric power station which regulates the water level of the lake. In years of abundant rains, fluctuations in the water level do not pose any great problem, but in years of drought 1.5-2 m drops in water level can leave extensive areas exposed.

Since at least 1933, there has been an inflow of mining residues into the lake, which has affected the fish and bird fauna in at least the northwesternmost part of the lake. Added to the sewage coming from the cities of Junín and Carhuamayo, these types of pollution are contributing to the natural eutrophication process of this wetland. An added threat is the proposed scheme to divert the water of the lake to the Pacific slope (the Mantaro Water Transfer Project).

Junin is surrounded by emergent vegetation, which in some places can reach 6 km wide and so dense that it is impenetrable. It is an important waterbody for both migratory and resident bird species, among which the Junin Grebe (Podiceps taczanoskii) is endemic and on the verge of extinction (50-75 individuals). The fish fauna is abundant and include several introduced species.

The waterbody is, by Peruvian law, owned by the State, but the adjacent lands are property of several local communities. The local inhabitants are mainly sheep farmers and fishermen, with very little agriculture in the area. Within the Ramsar site, fishing is limited and only for subsistence, as is hunting. Peat extraction over approximately 35% of the reserve is a traditional usage due to the lack of firewood in the area. The Lake Junin National Reserve has one warden and one director, with little infrastructure or means to carry out their tasks. However, some environmental education activities have been organised and several local organizations have made suggestions for improving the sewage treatment.

Manglares de Tumbes (03.25 S, 80.17 W)

This new Ramsar site includes the entire National Sanctuary of Manglares de Tumbes, covering 2,972 hectares, of which 1,800 ha are creeks and streams, and 1,172 ha are mangroves. There are plans to extend and incorporate into the sanctuary at least another 4,000 hectares. The site is at 0-10 m above sea level, and the entire area is strongly under tidal influence, sea currents and contribution of sediments carried by the river Tumbes. The inclusion of Manglares de Tumbes in the Ramsar List is a very important step forward in the conservation of mangroves, not only because it is at the southernmost limit of this type of wetland on the Pacific coast of South America, but also because of the ever-increasing rate of mangrove destruction for shrimp and fish farming.

Manglares de Tumbes has some infrastructure in place, and there are several on-going projects being carried out with financial support from WWF (for preparing a conservation strategy for the area) and the Government of the Netherlands (for wardening and for development of a Management and Integrated Use project). Local authorities, NGOs and the general public are also working together towards the development of sustainable extraction and reforestation of mangroves, suitable techniques for shellfish and fish extraction, and conservation of the population of the crocodile Crocodylus acutus. The site is of importance for the local inhabitants as a source of food and for commercial development to some extent.

Besides its importance for the population of crocodile, it is also relevant for the otter Lontra longicaudis annectens, both endangered in Peru. Waterfowl are also important, and there are a number of species which do not occur elsewhere in the country. It is of special relevance for sea turtles, fish and invertebrates, which are the basis of the local fisheries.

Pantanos de Villa (12.12 S, 76.59 W)

This small Reserve Zone (396 ha) is situated within the municipal limits of the city of Lima (almost 7 million inhabitants), at -1m to 5m above sea level. It is a coastal lagoon with brackish water and abundant emergent vegetation. It is situated in a desert and the water is of underground origin.

Despite being surrounded by housing, Pantanos de Villa is still important for waterfowl typical of coastal Peru, including Humboldt current species and 17 species of migratory shorebirds. In 1993, an amphibian Colostethus littoralis was rediscovered, having been considered extinct in the area. Besides its interest from the point of view of fauna and flora, Pantanos del Viila is of special relevance for recreation, environmental education and public awareness, given its proximity to Lima.

Pantanos de Villa is state-owned and has some basic infrastructura and personnel carrying out wardening and visitor tours. There are several threats to the area, including eutrophication due to domestic sewage and runoff of fertilizer irrigation water, but especially excessive use of water for irrigation and domestic use with associated reduction of the water table. During the summer months this is particularly critical, which together with the temperature increase of the water results in a high mortality of fish and other animals.

-- reported by Montserrat Carbonell, Ramsar Regional Coordinator for the Neotropics