Ramsar Visitors Centre opens in Austria

Ramsar Visitors Centre opens in Austria

3 May 2006

Schrems, Austria, launchs Ramsar Centre, April 2006

Arguably, one of the most innovative wetland centres - and certainly one of the very few providing the link to the Ramsar Convention in their name - is the new "UnderWaterWorld" Ramsar Centre in Schrems Nature Park which opened its doors on 28 April 2006. Schrems is a small town in Austria's most northern corner, in the "Waldviertel" (forest quarter), or the silent land of dark waters, as the tourist leaflet puts it.

At the opening ceremony with nearly 400 people attending, the deputy state leader of Niederösterreich (one of Austria's nine federal states), Ernest Gabmann, underlined the fact that the Ramsar Centre is planned to attract at least 30,000 paying visitors a year, as it is forming part of the many tourist attractions available for recreation in his very healthy region. Indeed, if you wish to, you can swim from the "Moorbad" (bog pool) in the natural lake draining the nearby peat bog (part of Ramsar Site N° 1013) upstream directly to the entry of the breathtaking experience of the UnderWaterWorld.

Life on earth is inseparably linked to the element of water, where billions of years ago, the first primitive forms of life developed. But only the synthesis of the DNA double helix as carrier of the genetic information enabled the development of more complex living organisms and the biodiversity we know nowadays. Therefore let's start our journey into the UnderWaterWorld with a glance through the 'spiral of life' onto the history of our planet. It leads into the microcosm of microbes and small invertebrates, through the underwater zoo and the waterland with many living organisms, passes by the research laboratory, and goes outside to the water terraces, to arrive finally at the otter.

This is the introductory text leading the visitor to the discoveries in the Ramsar Centre (www.unterwasserreich.at). As all of the texts, it is provided in three languages: English for international visitors and for global links, Czech for visitors from the partner town Trebon and neighbouring Ramsar Sites "Trebon mires and fish ponds" (N° 495 and 636) across the open border (formerly cut by the "iron curtain"), and German, for local and national visitors and others from further away.

The Ramsar Centre is the brainchild of Michaela Bodner, now its director. Over the years, she managed to gather around her project all those specialists and supporters needed to make her vision a reality. WWF Austria and the urban municipality of Schrems cooperate to make the UnderWaterWorld part of an international network.

"Not only life needs water, but water needs life as well. Its diversity can best be observed in the Ramsar Centre." This is how WWF director Hildegard Aichberger puts it. "The beautiful landscapes of the Waldviertel ponds, peat bogs and floodplains Ramsar Site have become more and more popular to visitors." Therefore, the mayor of Schrems, Reinhard Oesterreicher, firmly believes that the Ramsar Centre represents another important step for a fascinating and attracting adventure. The UnderWaterWorld gives unusual insights in the mysterious world of water through an underwater zoo, cinema and science lab. In the outdoor area, frogs, dragonflies and otters can be observed in their natural habitats. Water terraces, ponds and natural brooks show the scenic uniqueness of the Waldviertel. Not many Ramsar Sites have such a splendid entry gate to discover their riches, but this one can lead the way.

Regular guided tours, workshops for children and schools, and family activities will fill the Ramsar Centre with human life as well. As Michaela Bodner sums it up: "We aimed to showcase a diversity of different wetland aspects, sufficiently spectacular in order not to bore the general public, but at the same time scientifically correct, not to upset the specialists and those already intimate with the delicacies of nature conservation." A specific part of the exhibit focuses on the Ramsar Convention and the network of Ramsar Sites in Austria, Europe and the world. Congratulations to all involved!

-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

Strange marsh creatures show the way from Schrems bog swimming pool (the natural lake in the background) to the new Ramsar Centre…

where the local brass band welcomes the invitees to the formal opening at the entrance hall of the modern building (carefully blended into the wetland landscape).

Michaela Bodner gave the Austrian National Ramsar Committee (holding their biannual meeting at this occasion in Schrems) a private view before the opening.

Helmut Miernicki (left), of the Ecoplus development agency of the federal state Niederösterreich, moderated the media conference in the "Green Lounge", with Hildegard Aichberger, CEO of WWF Austria and Schrems mayor, Reinhard Oesterreicher, just before the opening ceremony.

Deputy State Leader Ernest Gabmann (green tie to the left) and Czech neighbours (in the centre: Libuse Vlasáková, Ramsar focal point in the Environment Ministry, Martina Eiseltová, Trebon wetland training centre, and Jan Kvet, Czech MaB Committee) listen, among many others, to the opening speeches . . .

. . . while marsh goblins try to distract the audience's attention.

The visitor entering the wetland microcosm comes face-to-face with a horrifying predatory dragonfly larvae (in fact a 50 times oversize model), later on with living creatures, such as these perches swimming in the underwater zoo, before…

strolling through the outdoor demonstration wetlands including a spring source, peat bog, sedge and reed marshes, mud and sand flats and an open pond in front of the impressive glass front of the modern building, embellished with lizard and water snake silk prints by a contemporary Austrian artist. A marvelous landscape once the vegetation will have developed sufficiently.