The Bureau is very pleased to announce that on 13 December 1999, the Hon. Dr Sama Siama Banya, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in the government of Sierra Leone, deposited with UNESCO that nations instrument of accession to the Convention, as amended by the Paris Protocol (1982) and accepting the amendments to Articles 6 and 7 (Regina Amendments, 1987). The Convention will enter into force for Sierra Leone on 13 April 2000, as Ramsar's 118th Contracting Party. The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine Resources, the Hon. Okere A. Adams, has informed the Bureau that the Chief Conservator of Forests, within his ministry, will serve as Administrative Authority, and that a National Ramsar (Wetlands) Committee has already been established, to consist of 4 Ministry personnel, 2 representatives of the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, 3 from the Division of Marine Resources, and 2 from the Ministry of International Affairs and Rural Development (Council of Paramount Chiefs).
Sierra Leone has designated as its first Wetland of International Importance (the Convention's 1014th) the "Sierra Leone River Estuary", a 295,000-hectare piece of coastline stretching from Cape Point on the Freetown Peninsula across to the Bunce Creek. The Estuary is dominated by mangrove systems, with lowland coastal plains to the north. As it enters the Atlantic Ocean, the estuary widens to about 11km and deepens to form a natural harbor said to be the third largest in the world. 19% of Sierra Leones total mangrove is included within the site. The site exceeds the 1% threshold for at least eight waterbird species, namely Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Greenshank and Redshank, and Western Reef Heron; breeding habitat is supported for some of these. More than 20,000 individuals have been recorded for some waterbird species, and in 1995 more than 10,000 were recorded for 36 species.
The Estuary is threatened by vegetation clearance and unsustainable fishing, and efforts are being made strictly to conserve certain core areas within the site. Vast areas of untouched mangrove forest still exist, however, and traditional fishing and agro-forestry for fuelwood can be managed sustainably in collaboration with an existing EU-funded Artisanal Fishing Community Development Programme. Fine beaches in some areas provide hope for well-managed tourist development, especially in light of the presence of an historic slave castle on Bunce Island, and so ecotourism development is considering promising. Minister Adams notes that by virtue of this accession Sierra Leone, already a signatory to CBD, CITES, UNFCCC and other biodiversity-related conventions, will be able to contribute more significantly to biodiversity conservation in the Upper Guinea Forest Block.