Revitalizing Ramsar Wetlands in the Naghadeh plain near Lake Uromiyeh
Lake Uromiyeh, one of the world's largest hyper-saline lakes, has been shrinking for decades. But when its surrounding (satellite) wetlands in the south showed signs of severe degradation, a group of ex-hunters and teachers sounded the alarm bells.
Most large lakes – including Lake Uromiyeh – have satellite wetlands some of which are also considered as Ramsar sites – a wetlands classification system named after the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1971. The Sirangoli wetland (Dorge Sangi or Dash Dorge as locals call it) together with Hasanlou wetland and the Yadegarlou wetland makeup a Ramsar site. These satellite wetlands are located inside the Naghadeh plain, South of Uromiyeh Lake.
The ex-hunters were aware of the ecological value of the Ramsar sites. But following the decline of the wetlands they began to notice changes in its habitat.
The region was once a green and lush area where many endemic and migratory birds, including Flamingos, Great Bustard, White Headed Ducks, and Marbled Duck, bred.
The degradation of the wetlands has been the result of various factors, including droughts and unsustainable water irrigation. The practice of digging water wells instead of using and maintaining surface water runoff, traditional water canals and qanats – hand-dug underground aqueducts -- has become an established practice. These surface water canals were not maintained and they were filled with sediment that cut off water flow to the wetlands.
Satellite wetlands, such as those in the Naghadeh plain thus became more important environmental preserves as Lake Uromiyeh itself began to dry out. After forming an alliance with three other CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) and community groups in the area, the hunters and teachers turned to the UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Iran to rehabilitate the Sirongoli wetland, which had completely dried up. The groups also looked into creating a local management group and a plan for preserving the habitat of migratory birds.
At the time popular opinion held that the wetlands were not revivable. This did not deter the groups, but rather it motivated them. They began conducting environmental education, building trust and raising awareness about the issues, in an effort to get cooperation from both local communities and the government.
The initiative quickly gained momentum and the network expanded to include seven organizations, including two women’s organizations. With the support of UNDP GEF SGP Iran, the organizations established the Local Committee for Revitalizing the Naghadeh Plain Wetlands. This body is working with increasingly complex web of stakeholders that include communities, councils, CSOs, NGOs and various regional and local government bodies.
With the expansion of the NGO umbrella network, wetland revitalization efforts have grown to now cover a total of over 1,500 hectares in the region, targeting the closely-linked Sirongoli, Hasanlou, Dorna, and Boghe Daghi wetlands. Seven communities with nearly 600 active members are engaged in this initiative and have contributed to its design and implementation.
The projects involve a range of activities that include reducing threats to biodiversity, wetland replenishment, and the dredging of 18 km of canals from the Qadar River to maintain the flow of unused farming water to the Sirongoli wetland during winter.
To revive Hasanlou wetland, some 5000 trucks of soil were transferred to build a dike, an overflow bridge was constructed, and a buffer was created between the wetland and the sandy drainage of Hasanlou dam. As habitat conservation is an important goal of the projects, the communities also mapped the wetland areas, including locations of bird nests and vegetation.
As a result, a full 10 years since the project commenced, the achievements of the wetland pilot initiatives supported by SGP Iran are now clearly noticeable.
The removal of physical barriers within the interlaced wetland landscape has dramatically transformed the ecosystem. A Sirongoli wetland area has been able to maintain its water levels during the last few years. The adjacent wetlands Hasanlou and Dorna are also recovering. Underwater aquifers have been replenished and the degradation of surrounding grasslands and mountains has been halted and reversed, creating robust biodiversity.
Migrating birds, such as different types of Goose, Whooper swan, Flamingos, Ruddy shelduck, and Common shelduck have been making a comeback. To mark this milestone the project partners produced a book entitled "The Purple Gem of Soldouz Plain, the return of Flamingos.”
The Naghadeh wetland projects are a striking example of how community strategies can have a significant impact on environmental conservation. Many wetland communities have visited the project sites to learn about rehabilitation techniques.
The UNDP GEF SGP project manager won the National Wetland's Champion Award in 2008, for successful preservation of wetland ecosystems and promotion of wetlands culture in Iran. This extensive experience was also incorporated into Iran's national management plan for wetlands.