Gabon adds a million hectares to its protected wetlands

Posted: 3 February 2009

Gabon, in West Africa, is to increase its protected wetland sites by more than a million hectares. This will increase Gabon's total area of Ramsar protected areas by more than a third and has been welcomed by conservationists world wide.

The announcement on World Wetlands Day that Gabon is to increase its protected Ramsar sites by more than a million hectares is a major boost to conservation in central Africa.

Ogooué River, Gabon
Ogooué River, Gabon
Ogooué River, Gabon. Photo: UNESCO
The addition of the three new areas totalling 1,054,700 hectares to the Ramsar register of wetlands of international significance was immediately hailed by WWF as a major event.

"The green heart of Africa is a global conservation priority, and the basis of the region and its biological wealth are its rivers and wetlands," said Dr Lifeng Li, director of WWF International's Global Freshwater Programme.

"These new areas cover diverse habitats from impressive river rapids to extensive marshes and are vitally important to the wildlife and people of the region - but they need more protection from a growing rush for resources and associated increases in pollution."

Rich wildlife

The largest of the areas is the 862,700 hectare Bas Ogooué, a luxuriantly vegetated area of alluvial plain, lakes, marsh and rivers in western Gabon which is home to gorillas, chimpanzee, elephant, buffalo, the African manatee and hippopotamus. WWF is supporting research and other activities in the area.

Pirogue on Ivindo river, Minkébé, Gabon
Pirogue on Ivindo river, Minkébé, Gabon
Pygmies' pirogue on Ivindo river, Minkébé Forest, Gabon. Photo © Michel GUNTHER / WWF-Canon
Chutes et Rapides sur Invindo is a 132,500 ha representative sample of the waterfalls and rapids of Gabon covering both permanent and intermittent rivers in the north east of the country. The area is rich in waterbirds, plants and fish that are adapted to heavy currents. Part of the site is within the Ivindo National Park where a management plan is currently being prepared but other areas are affected by over-fishing, over-exploitation of forests and from pollution from towns and iron mining.

Manganese and uranium mining are among threats to the third area Rapides de Mboungou Badouma et de Doumé where 140 km of rapids are part of a hydrographically important spillway area for several permanent and intermittent rivers. The rivers, rapids and permanent marshes of this system are a food source, habitat and refuge to extensive wildlife populations considered under threat from the mining activities, forest exploitation and pollution from towns.

World Wetlands Day is held each year on the anniversary of the 1971 signing of the International Convention on Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The Ramsar Convention as it has become known was the first global environmental treaty and now has 158 Contracting Parties, with 1831 wetland sites, totaling 170 million hectares included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.