Ramsar visits Armenia's wetlands

Ramsar visits Armenia's wetlands

29 September 1998

Summary Report

Ramsar Bureau & RIZA visit to Armenia

3-11 September 1998

1. Background

1.1 Armenia became a Contracting Party to the Convention on Wetlands in July 1993 (with entry into force on 6 November 1993), less than two years after independence from the former Soviet Union.

1.2 The Administrative Authority for the Convention is the Ministry of Nature Protection, although the name of this Ministry has been the subject of several changes in the past 5 years.

armenia1.jpg (19264 bytes)Dr Karen Jenderedjian (left), Deputy Director of Lake Sevan National Park, and Mr Frank Alberts (second from left), RIZA, discussing the next day's work. (Photo: Tim Jones, Ramsar)

1.3 Armenia was represented by an Observer at COP5 (Kushiro, 1993) and as a Contracting Party at COP6 (Brisbane, 1996). A National Report was submitted for COP6, and the National Report for COP7 (San José, 1999) has recently been received by the Ramsar Bureau. The then Minister attended COP6, demonstrating a clear commitment to the Convention.

1.4 Armenian representatives also attended the Pan-European Regional Meetings held in 1992 (Lelystad), 1995 (Varna), and 1998 (Riga), as well as the Eastern European Regional Meeting held in 1994 (Budapest). It was at the latter meeting where contacts were established with Dr Karen Jenderedjian, the present focal point for the Convention. As Deputy Director of Lake Sevan National Park, Dr Jenderedjian is responsible to the Minister of Nature Protection.

1.5 Two sites were designated for the List of Wetlands of International Importance at the time of Accession in 1993:

Site Name Designated Area Coordinates
Lake Arpi 06/07/93 3,139 ha 41º03'N 043º37'E
Lake Sevan 06/07/93 489,100 ha 40º24'N 045º17'E

armenia4.jpg (11179 bytes)Lake Arpi Ramsar site, Armenia (photo: Tim Jones)

1.6 Lake Arpi is a high-altitude freshwater lake, nourished by springs and rivers, in a relatively remote area of Armenia, close to the Turkish and Georgian borders. The local climate is severe in winter and relatively cool in summer. The lake is important for nationally rare species of flora and fauna, such as breeding colonies of Dalmatian Pelican (Pelicanus crispus) and Armenian Gull (Larus armenicus), and is of local importance for fishing, water supply and support to farming systems. Between 1946 and 1950 a dam was built in the natural outlet of the lake. Since then each year 60-80 million cubic meters of water from the lake is used for irrigation and generation of hydro-electricity. This causes unnatural fluctuations of the lake’s water level (ca. 2 m) which especially prevents the development of valuable emergent vegetation along the shoreline. Consequently management planning focuses primarily on implementation of a more natural water management.

armenia5.jpg (19518 bytes)Lake Sevan, Armenia, 1998

1.7 With a surface of 1244 km2 and a volume of 34 km3 Lake Sevan is one of the largest high-altitude freshwater lakes in the Eurasian region. As well as supporting unique flora and fauna, the lake is of major socio-economic importance (water supply, electricity generation, fishing, recreation/tourism) and of very great significance in the country’s cultural and national identity. In Armenia Lake Sevan is especially famous for its endemic fish species Salmo ischchan which is now at the edge of extinction due to the worsening of habitat conditions and severe poaching. The lake’s catchment area covers one sixth of the territory of Armenia. Lake Sevan and its catchment area were designated as a National Park in 1978 (489,100 ha). Between 1933 and 1966 the level of the lake dropped by 19m (from 1916m to 1896m), due to the use of its water for generation of hydroelectricity and irrigation. After 1966 a more stable situation was established by stopping the use of lake Sevan water for generation of hydroelectricity. Several plans to raise the water level have been prepared, but not yet implemented. After the disastrous earthquake of 1998 the only nuclear power plant of Armenia closed down which led to a return to the use of Lake Sevan water for generation of hydro-electricity. In 1996 the nuclear power plant was restarted. Since then the use of lake Sevan water is back to the level of the period 1966-1988. The long term strategy for the water management of lake Sevan is to increase the water level by 4-6 m within the next 25 years and to built a series of sewage water treatment plants near towns and villages around the lake to prevent (further) eutrophication of the lake. The estimated investment needed for the total scheme is about 140 million US$.

armenia3.jpg (30895 bytes)A beached boat left behind long ago by the recession of Lake Sevan's shoreline. (Photo: Tim Jones)

1.8 In 1997, Dr Jenderedjian attended the International Course in Wetland Management, organized by the Wetland Advisory and Training Centre of the Institute for Inland Water Management and Waste Water Treatment (WATC/RIZA), in Lelystad, The Netherlands. A second Armenian participant, Ms Susanna Hagobian attended in 1998. Draft management plans for the two Ramsar sites were prepared as a result of the courses (Lake Sevan in 1997, Lake Arpi in 1998).

1.9 In October 1997, the Ramsar Standing Committee approved a Small Grants Fund allocation of CHF 35,000 for inventory work to identify suitable sites around Lake Sevan for wetland habitat restoration. A further SGF proposal, for implementation of the Ramsar Strategic Plan in Lake Sevan National Park, has been received for consideration by the Standing Committee at its October 1998 meeting. The Bureau has recommended the project for funding, but, at the time of writing, this is far from guaranteed because of a shortage of money in the SGF.

1.10 In October 1996, The Armenian Ministry of Environment, UNDP and the Embassy of France in Armenia sponsored a conference on the problems of Lake Sevan. The Proceedings were published by UNDP in 1998. Development (but not implementation) of an Action Plan - as recommended by the conference - has been financed by the World Bank. None of the official Ramsar Partner Organizations (BirdLife International, IUCN, Wetlands International, or WWF-International) has any field projects, or other programmes, active in Armenia. However, Dr Jenderedjian will attend the Wetlands International meeting in Senegal in November 1998.

armenia2.jpg (16155 bytes)Karen Jenderedjian and Frank Alberts, 1998.

1.11 In spring 1998, the Bureau received an invitation from the Minister of Nature Protection to visit Armenia. WATC/RIZA had also been invited to visit Armenia to discuss possible future activities in Armenia. As a result, Mr Frank Alberts, the Head of RIZA’s Land Use Planning Division and Mr Tim Jones, the Ramsar Bureau’s Regional Coordinator for Europe, visited Armenia together from 4-10 September, with outward travel on 3 September and return on 11 September.

2. Programme

4 September: Visit offices of Department of Especially Protected Natural Areas, Ministry of Nature Protection. Field visit to protected areas close to Yerevan; discussion of wetland activities in Armenia.

5 September: Field visit to Ararat valley artesian wetlands. Discussion of possible Ramsar designation of the area and its current and future use/management.

6 September: Travel by car to Lake Arpi Ramsar site, stay overnight at local village.

7 September: Visit small lake and mountain spring wetlands close to Lake Arpi. Discuss management of Lake Arpi and possible Ramsar designation of nearby wetlands. Return to Yerevan by car in evening. Overnight in Yerevan.

8 September: Travel by car to town of Sevan. Drive along Lake Sevan to Argi¹ I river valley floodplain wetlands; visit to Lichk, site of proposed wetland restoration project adjacent to Lake Sevan; visit failed fish-farming project close to Lake Sevan. Overnight at Sevan.

9 September: Discussion of preliminary conclusions and recommendations from the mission. Visit other areas of Lake Sevan; discussions of the history and impact of human-caused changes in the lake’s water level. Visit Dilizan region. Return by car to Yerevan. Meet with Deputy Minister for Nature Protection.

10 September: Discussion with Deputy Head of water resources management department at Ministry of Nature Protection. Wrap-up discussion with other Armenian colleagues.

3. Main conclusions and recommendations

dotbluedark.gif (919 bytes)There is currently inadequate international support to Armenia for the conservation and wise use of its wetlands and their resources.

dotbluedark.gif (919 bytes)However, the small size of the country, combined with the presence of highly motivated, highly educated experts and clear commitment from the Ramsar Administrative Authority, makes Armenia a priority for the relatively modest assistance (technical or financial) available directly from the Ramsar Bureau or RIZA. It should also increase the chances of securing other bilateral partnerships, perhaps with one or more West European Ramsar Administrative Authorities, and/or NGOs.

dotbluedark.gif (919 bytes)The 1997 Small Grants Fund project of CHF 35,000 has been well used and is enabling wetland conservation activities which would otherwise be impossible due to lack of funds from national sources. This money appears to be the only international support for wetland work in the country (the World Bank programme for Lake Sevan does not appear to give high priority to wetland issues).

dotbluedark.gif (919 bytes)Every effort should be made to fund the SGF project submitted in 1998; if not directly from SGF money, than through alternative sources which could be approached by the Ramsar Bureau.

dotbluedark.gif (919 bytes)Specific follow-up will be developed in the following areas:

  • RIZA to investigate possibilities for technical assistance for design of a national training course in wetland management.
  • Ramsar Bureau to provide CHF 12,500 from the Evian Programme to support implementation of such a training course. This would be contingent on our Armenian counterparts submitting a brief written proposal. Consideration to be given to including Armenia in the Bureau’s programme of capacity-building for e-mail and web access amongst Administrative Authorities.
  • RIZA to investigate possible twinning arrangement between de Oostvaardersplassen, a 5500 ha Ramsar site in the Netherlands, managed by the National Forestry Service and the proposed Lake Lichk restoration area alongside Lake Sevan (appr. 600 ha), managed by the Sevan National Park (Lichk Reserve Zone). Both areas have developed on former lake beds (Lake Sevan and Lake IJssel, respectively). There is also similarity in main management-topics (waterlevel management, reed bed management and grazing by cattle). Exchange of management experiences and consultation on possible management measures will be of mutual interest.
  • RIZA to investigate possibilities for providing the Department of Especially Protected Areas with recent satellite images of the designated Ramsar sites, Lake Sevan and Lake Arpi and other existing Armenian wetland areas. These images are considered to be of important value as a source of information for scientific studies on the development of those areas by the department. RIZA will put effort into providing the Department with relevant images in close consultation with the responsible experts of the department
  • Ramsar Bureau to discuss possible bilateral financial and technical support with West European Governmental and NGO sectors.
  • Ramsar Bureau to discuss with French Ministry of Environment and Land-use Planning the possibility of bilateral support for Armenia.
  • Ramsar Bureau to contact the World Bank to discuss Lake Sevan Action Plan and scope for incorporating Ramsar issues.
  • Ramsar Bureau and RIZA to discuss further with Armenia colleagues how international support can most effectively be used for conservation and wise use of the Ararat valley wetlands.
  • Ministry of Nature Protection to provide revised Ramsar Information Sheets for Lakes Arpi and Sevan by the end of 1998.

armenia6.jpg (19058 bytes)

-- Trip report by Tim Jones, Regional Coordinator for Europe, Ramsar