Future of Myanmar’s largest lake secured thanks to new Ramsar Site designation

Conservationists in Myanmar have a special reason to celebrate World Wetlands Day today, as Indawgyi Lake is officially added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Announced by the Myanmar Government and Ramsar Secretariat today, the designation of Indawgyi Lake as a Ramsar Site marks the Myanmar government’s commitment to conserve this special area, which supports the livelihood of some 30,000 people and is also home to a great diversity of water birds, fish and reptiles.

According to Dr U Nyi Nyi Kyaw, the Director General of the Forest Department, “The new Ramsar Site will ensure the long-term conservation and wise use of Myanmar’s most important wetland, Indawgyi Lake basin, which is only Myanmar’s second Ramsar Site. However, the government is committed to designating additional Ramsar Sites to create a national network of protected wetlands.”

Indawgyi Lake. Credit: FFI.

Indawgyi Lake. Credit: FFI.

A place for people and wildlife

Located in northern Myanmar, Indawgyi Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in Myanmar. The site regularly supports at least 20,000 migratory and resident water birds, including coot, purple swamphen, tufted and ferruginous ducks, lesser whistling ducks and black-headed gulls, to name just a few.

Five globally-threatened turtle and tortoise species are also found here along with 93 fish species, seven of which are endemic to these wetlands and have only recently been discovered to science.

Around 30,000 people live in the lake’s basin, most of whom earn a living from the lake through fishing, rice farming, livestock grazing, and extracting forest products from the surrounding watershed.

Migratory birds. Credit: Bjorn Olesen/FFI.

The site supports 20,000 migratory and resident water birds. Credit: Bjorn Olesen/FFI.

Some of these practices have been unsustainable, such as overfishing in the lake and firewood extraction in the watershed. “We have been working at Indawgyi Lake since 2010 to address these challenges together with local communities, the Forest Department and the Department of Fisheries,” said Frank Momberg, Fauna & Flora International’s Myanmar Programme Director.

Firewood extraction and consumption have been reduced through fuel-efficient stoves and community forestry. To improve fisheries management, local communities participated in the designation of fish conservation zones to protect fish breeding and nursery grounds. The Department of Fisheries just approved nine community-managed fish conservation zones, including a ‘no-fishing zone’ around Shwe Myint Zu Pagoda, an iconic cultural building on the western side of the lake.

Shwe Myint Zu Pagoda. Credit: Bjorn Olesen/FFI.

Shwe Myint Zu Pagoda. Credit: Bjorn Olesen/FFI.

Indawgyi’s outstanding cultural and natural heritage is attracting an increasing number of tourists. To ensure tourism is sustainable and benefits local people, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has launched a community-based ecotourism initiative offering new adventures such as kayaking, cycling and trekking – all of which provide jobs for local youth.

According to Frank Momberg, “Local people are often dependent upon wetlands because of the benefits they provide, such as water for drinking and irrigation, as well as in providing food such as fish. It is therefore critical to promote the wise use of wetlands and manage them in collaboration with local communities.”

Despite the good progress for conservation as highlighted by the Ramsar designation, major challenges lay ahead, in particular illegal artisanal gold mining on streams in the watershed, which is causing sedimentation and pollution in the southern part of the lake.

To find out more, read the press release.

Images courtesy of Bjorn Olesen – www.bjornolesen.com.