Wetlands and Ramsar Convention

Wetlands are significant part of natural ecosystems; they contribute to regional and global ecological stability. Wetlands recycle nutrients; hold and slowly release flood water and snow melt, and recharge groundwater.

Also wetlands serve as nurseries for many living organisms, and provide habitat for plants, fish, animals, and variety of birds, including migratory species.

In addition wetlands provide a range of economic and social benefits, since they have commercial and recreational importance for people.

Several decades ago a few countries and non-governmental organizations that were concerned at the increasing loss and degradation of wetland habitat for migratory water birds, adopted the treaty in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 that came into force in 1975. 18 nations signed the Final Act of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, committing their governments to the wise use of wetlands in their territory, and to designating wetlands of international importance to the Ramsar List.

The fundamental purpose of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as waterfowl habitat is to conserve wetlands through international cooperation.

The Convention uses a broad definition of the types of wetlands covered in its mission, including lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peat lands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.

The Soviet Union joined the Ramsar Convention in 1976. In 1991, after the break-up of the USSR, only three Ramsar sites remained in Russia. In 1994, the Government of the Russian Federation reconfirmed Ramsar status for the three sites and designated 32 additional sites as wetlands of international importance. Today the total area of 35 Ramsar sites is 10.3 million ha. These sites support large populations of water birds, up to an estimated total of 10 million birds (in August, at the end of the breeding season), representing over 12% of the Russian water bird population. The majority of the sites is large complex habitats and includes wetlands of various types.

Furthermore, 166 wetland sites in Russia was qualified as internationally important against the Ramsar Convention criteria, and are presently on the Ramsar Shadow List of the Russian Federation. The total area of these wetlands is nearly 44 million hectares. The sites are located in 52 administrative regions of the Russian Federation, including 16 wetlands situated in the Sakha republic (Yakutia).

The present data on Yakutian Wetlands on the Ramsar Shadow list are based on the materials available in Wetlands International Global Series No.3, 2000 (available in Russian).

We believe that provided information will be useful to increase the awareness of the importance of wetlands of Ramsar shadow list in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) among decision-makers and the general public, and thus will assist us to promote some of them towards the Wetlands of International Importance.

Yakutian Wetlands on the Ramsar Shadow list are divided geographically into several groups and are represented by the following sites (numbers in brackets are given in accordance with Wetlands International Global Series No.3, 2000):

– New Siberian Islands (appox.3600000 ha), [125]

– Lena River Delta (3200000 ha), [124]

– Indigirka River Delta and Chroma-Sundrun interfluve (1608000 ha), [126]

– Upper Chroma River  (113000 ha), [127]

– Indigirka-Kolyma interfluve and western part of the Kolyma River Delta (2106500 ha), [128]

– Eastern part of the Kolyma River Delta (280000 ha), [129]

– Yana River Delta  (800000 ha), [136]

– Medvezhyi/Bear Islands  (6000 ha) (6000 ha), [137]

– Sanga-Uryakh River Basin (284000 ha) (284000 ha), [138]

– Lake system in the Kolyma-Alazeya lowland (62200 ha), [139]

– Middle Lena river valley and Dyandishka-Lyapiske interfluve (1016000 ha), [130]

– Muna River Basin (2500000 ha), [135]

– White/Beloye Lake in the Central Yakut lowland (35813 ha), [131]

– Nidzhily Lake (11900 ha), [132]

– Aldan-Amga interfluve (831520 ha), [133]

– Aldan-Maiya interfluve (663800 ha), [134]

Arctic Archipelagos

In Russia this area occupies four archipelagos in Atlantic and central sectors of the Russian Arctic. Formation of the wetlands here is connected with inland and subterranean ice, and marine abrasion. The number of lakes and rivers is not high, and the area they cover is not large. Wetlands are not abundant and represented mainly by Dupontia dominated tidal marshes and marshlands, lowland arctic deserts and tundras with oligotrophic ponds and lakes in valleys and depressions. The productivity of these wetlands is fairly low. Biological diversity in not high, however it is unique. These territories represent ecosystems that successfully function under extreme climatic conditions, which is of particular scientific interest. None of the present wetlands on this area is included to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

In Yakutia Arctic archipelagos are represented by New Siberian Islands [125]. The total area is appox. 3600000 ha. The main part of the wetland sites is performed by plains and plateaus, which are the remains of accumulation and denudation plains of the Yana-Indigirka Lowland. The river net of this area is well developed (12.000 water courses, the total length is about 32.000 km.), also 2.300 lakes are recorded with the total covered area 29500 ha. Within these territories thermokarst  is spread widely, frost fissures are very common as well.

New Siberian Islands are the nesting habitat for 35 species of birds, including waterfowl. In the waters surrounding the archipelago marine mammals occur, among them are beluga whale, bearded seal, narwhal, walrus (Laptev subpopulation), polar bear. The fauna of valuable terrestrial mammals is represented by reindeer and arctic fox. On Lyakhovskiy and Anzhu Islands local people are involved in fishing and collecting of mammoth tusks that is referred to a traditional lifestyle.

Tundras of Eastern Siberia

This site occupies narrow area of Yakutian tundras that is represented by a variety of landscapes, such as western lowlands and mountainous lands near the Lena River. The most valuable sites are concentrated at deltas of large rivers of Western Siberia – Lena, Anabar, Yana, Indigirka, and Kolyma. Lakes of Kolyma Lowland are of the great importance as well. Shorelines of the Laptev Sea and East-Siberian Sea are characterized by lowlands with extensive tidal marshes and marshlands. The productivity of the sites is lower to compare with tundras of Western and Central Eurasia. The estimated bird number is 1,3 million, their density is not very high – 250 birds per 100 sq.km.

Importance of sites is increasing towards eastern tundras due to presence of beringian and American species. Also eastern part of the region is a main habitat for Siberian crane – Sterkh. Seven species (including polar bear and walrus) that occur here are in the Russian Red list of endangered species.

This area is performed by nine sites:

  1. [124] Lena River Delta (3200000 ha)
  2. [126] Indigirka River Delta and Chroma-Sundrun interfluve (1608000 ha)
  3. [127] Upper Chroma River (113000 ha)
  4. [128] Indigirka-Kolyma interfluve and western part of the Kolyma River Delta (2106500 ha)
  5. [129] Eastern part of the Kolyma River Delta (280000 ha)
  6. [136] Yana River Delta (800000 ha)
  7. [137] Medvezhyi/Bear Islands (6000 ha) (6000 ha)
  8. [138] Sanga-Uryakh River Basin (284000 ha) (284000 ha)
  9. [139] Lake system in the Kolyma-Alazeya lowland (62200 ha)

Plateaus of Western Siberia

In Yakutia this region is performed by Muna River Basin [135]. The total area is 2500000 ha. It is covered by plains, dominated by shrubs and sparse growth of larch, sedge and sphagnum bogs. Site is represented by a variety of rivers, lakes, channels, secluded ponds, and grass bogs. This is a key nesting site for boreal birds, and plays important role for tundra waterfowl during migration. White-tailed eagle, golden eagle, brant goose, and other threatened species do nest here. In general 146 of bird species are recorded at this site, 103 among them use this territory for nesting purposes. From 15 to 30 species form colonies here, the number of birds in such agglomerations is in the hundred times greater of those at adjacent territories. The territory is also inhabited by typical boreal animals – brown bear, elk, wolf, squirrel, etc.

Territories of the left tributaries of the Lena and Muna Rivers have important economic and social role for local people for their traditional economy, including fishing, hunting for fur and meat, and berrying.

 Central Yakutia

It is relatively small region that occupies Central Yakut lowland at the central part of Yakutia. The site is characterized by specific cyclic process of formation – permafrost thawing – water lens development – lake development – natural emptying of lake – meadow/alas development represented mainly by meadow-pond landscapes on a permafrost zone with its original dynamic. The productivity of the site is average. The total number of birds is about 640000 that is fairly high for such a limited area. Species biodiversity is considered as low. Six species of vertebrates are in the Russian list of threatened species, including black swan, osprey, white-tailed falcon, and black stork.

Central Yakutia is a basic territory of a traditional husbandry. It is important place for local people who use these lands fishing, hunting and recreational purposes.

The area is represented by three sites:

  1. [131] White/Beloye Lake in the Central Yakut lowland (35813 ha)
  2. [132] Nidzhily Lake (11900 ha)
  3. [130] Middle Lena river valley and Dyandishka-Lyapiske interfluve (1016000 ha)

37 species of mammals inhabit the territories of Middle Lena river valley and Dyandishka-Lyapiske interfluve, including game species – hare, reindeer, fox, wolf, sable, elk, brown bear, etc. 164 migratory transit and nesting (39 species) bird species was recorded at this site.

   In White/Beloye Lake the best net of carp lakes is located, also this water system is inhabited by valuable taimen and sig. Nidzhily Lake has a crucial role for social and cultural life of local people. It provides the best sites reproduction and fattening for carp that plays a critical role for basic and traditional economy for local people.

Mountains of Eastern Siberia

This is the most extensive region of the mountainous Eastern Siberia that is characterized by a variety of ecological features. In general among important wetlands are pointed mountain rivers and streams, oligotrophic bogs, valleys of large rivers, marshy sparse forests, and marshes.

In Yakutia Mountains of Eastern Siberia are represented by two sites:

  1. [133] Aldan-Amga interfluve (831520 ha)
  2. [134] Aldan-Maiya interfluve (663800 ha)

These areas are covered by larch-dominated forests with presence of pine trees. The forest cover of the Aldan-Amga interfluve area reaches 70%.  Here complex of water streams, multiple-aged oxbow lakes, marshes and sedge-dominated bogs occur. Meadows/alases and steppe areas extend within watershed zones. This site provides a space for transit breaks during migration of the waterfowl and Siberian cranes. In overall this site supports from 45 to 51 species of migratory birds and provide important nesting sites for 107-111 species. Among representatives of mammal fauna elk, reindeer, sable, muskrat, brown bear and squirrel are registered. The same fauna occur at Aldan-Maiya interfluve site. Both of these sites are important for traditional economy of local people (fishing, hunting, pasture sites).  Aldan-Maiya interfluve site is of economic importance as a source of sig fish, game species, berrying and pastures sited for reindeer and horse herds. Thousands of birds, including waterfowl, migrate through this territory. The role of the area is not significant for molting periods; however bogs and lakes provide highly important nesting sites.