By Faranak Bakhtiari

World Wetlands Day: 25 Wetlands of International Importance in Iran

February 1, 2020 - 20:17

TEHRAN – Iran currently has 25 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), covering a surface area of 1,488,624 hectares.

The Ramsar Convention for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, recognizes the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value.

The Convention on Wetlands is the oldest of the modern global intergovernmental environmental agreements. The treaty was negotiated through the 1960s by countries and non - governmental organizations concerned about the increasing loss and degradation of wetland habitat for migratory waterbirds. It was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975. 

World Wetlands Day is observed annually on February 22, emphasizing on the importance of the wetlands and sustainable use of these valuable ecosystems.

According to the Ramsar Convention, wetlands remove water pollutants, control storms, curb climate impacts absorbing 30 percent of land-based carbon, share a great biodiversity helping human life, store and supply water, and help 1 billion people to make a living worldwide.

Moreover, wetlands are home to 40 percent of all species, and provide a great part of food supply, while being an important source of flourishing tourism in the countries.

Iran also has a great share of wetlands, as 105 wetlands are in Iran stretching 3 million hectares of lands. Here, we take a glimpse at some of them:

Alagol, Ulmagol and Ajigol Lakes

Alagol, Ulmagol and Ajigol Lakes are located in northern Mazandaran province with an area of 1,400 hectares; added to the Montreux Record, in 1993. Ulmagol and Ajigol are seasonally-filled freshwater lakes, fed by autumn and winter rains, which become desiccated in drought periods. Alagol is slightly saline and fringed by extensive reed and grass marshes. 

Ulmagol is sparsely vegetated. There are several human settlements. The site supports Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans, etc.), flamingos, and nesting White-tailed Plover. Placed on the Montreux Record in 1993 due to high levels of disturbance from wildfowl hunters and the extraction of water for irrigation purposes, which has lowered lake levels considerably, especially during summer. 

Amirkelayeh Lake

Located in Gilan province, Amirkelayeh Lake is a deep, freshwater lake supporting extensive reed beds and a rich floating and submerged vegetation. The lake is fed by springs and run-off, and at times of high water level drains into the Caspian Sea. The area is important for several species of wintering water birds, mostly Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans, etc.). Past human activities have included intensive duck hunting, which is now banned. 

Anzali Wetland

Anzali wetland in Gilan province stretches to 15,000 hectares; added to the Montreux Record, in June 1993. 

A large, freshwater lagoon fed by several rivers and separated from the sea by a dune system; supports extensive reed beds and abundant submerged and floating vegetation. The permanent wetland is surrounded by seasonally flooded marshes and ab-bandans (water impoundments) fringed by reedbeds and damp grassland. 

The site is of international importance for breeding, staging and wintering water birds. The massive spread of the exotic floating water fern Azola is suppressing native flora which is important food for waterbirds. This site was placed on the Montreux Record in 1993 due to change in water levels and increased nutrient-enrichment, leading to the rapid spread of the reed Phragmites australis. 

Bujagh National Park

Bujagh National Park of Gilan province has covered 3,177 hectares of the lands; which is a broad, shallow embayment of the Caspian Sea and associated deltaic wetlands at the mouth of the Sefid Rud River. 

With a variety of marine, coastal and inland freshwater and brackish wetland types, the site is important as a spawning and nursery ground for fish, and as breeding, staging and wintering area for waterfowl, including Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus.

 It supports more than 1% of the Caspian populations of Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons and Whooper Swan Cygnus Cygnus. The site also supports the globally Endangered Caspian Seal Pusa caspica. 

Bujagh National Park is floristically diverse and has 24 endemic species together with many traditionally-used medicinal plant species. The site is used for recreational and commercial fishing including aquaculture, livestock grazing, reedcutting, hunting, rice farming and recreation/tourism. 

It is impacted by waterfowl hunting, transport pressure from commercial fisheries, recreation, uncontrolled summer grazing and illegal fishing; a decrease in wintering waterfowl has been attributed to fishing and hunting disturbance. 

A management plan is under development. Bujagh National Park is an Important Bird Area and is considered a potential site for the reintroduction of the Siberian Crane. The original Ramsar site (1975) was significantly enlarged as of September 2009.

Choghakhor Wetland

Located in Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari province, Choghakhor Wetland is flowing on 1687 hectares; designated as a hunting restricted area. 

Choghakhor Wetland supports more than 47 bird species, with breeding populations of migratory birds such as the Northern Pintail (Anas acuta). 

It supports more than 1% of the population of Gadwall (Anas strepera) and harbours threatened species such as the endangered White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) and the vulnerable Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca). 

Choghakhor Wetland is considered to be one of the most important sites in Iran for the endemic Zagros pupfish (Aphanius vladykovi). It is important for flood control, ground water replenishment, and is generally considered a reservoir for biodiversity. Plants with important medicinal (e.g Achillea mille folium) properties can be harvested, and locals engage in livelihood activities such as fishing and agriculture. 

Threats to the site include the collection of bird eggs and poaching. Dam construction in 1991 has caused increasing water levels in the wetland which in turn, has affected the availability of bird habitats. The Department of Environment is responsible for the management of this site.

Deltas of Rud-e-Shur, Rud-e-Shirin and Rud-e-Minab

Deltas of Rud-e-Shur, Rud-e-Shirin and Rud-e-Mindab in Bandar Abbas also is covering an area of 45,000 hectares; coastal mudflats, mangroves and saltmarshes around the deltas of three rivers, subject to spring flooding. 

A shallow, inshore zone includes mud and sand flats, bars and spits. Arid plains and steppe occur inland. The area is also of great importance for wintering water birds.

Fereydoon Kenar, Ezbaran and Sorkh Ruds Ab-Bandans

All located in Mazandaran province, cover an area of 5,427 hectares; an artificially maintained wetland in the South Caspian lowlands. Comprises four "damgahs", i.e. shallow freshwater impoundments based on rice paddies developed as duck-trapping areas, surrounded by forest strips and reedbeds, and including a Wildlife Refuge (48ha). 

The area is of outstanding importance as wintering grounds for the entire western population of the Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus), listed as 'critically endangered' in the IUCN Red Book. Having reappeared at the site in 1978 after 60 years' absence, the number of Siberian Cranes now fluctuates between 7-14. 

Other endangered species using the site include Red-breasted GooseBranta ruficollis, Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus, Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus and occasionally Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmaeus, and wintering raptors such as Falco sp. and Haliaeetus albicilla. 

The site's agricultural lands are flooded during summer, thus supporting groundwater recharge and water supply for irrigation during the dry months. Apart from rice farming the land is used for forestry and fishery. 

In the past at the end of each trapping season the area was opened up for gun hunting in a massive "shoot-out", creating a potential threat for Siberian Cranes to be shot accidentally, but in 2001 the Department of Environment designated the whole site as a Non-Shooting Area. 

Gavkhouni Lake and marshes of the lower Zaindeh Rud

Gavkhouni Lake and marshes of the lower Zaindeh Rud in central province of Isfahan stretches to 43,000 hectares. 

Gavkhouni is a brackish lake with limited reed vegetation, and both it and the marshes of the lower Zaindeh Rud River are subject to wide seasonal flood fluctuations. Much of the original marshland has been converted to agricultural use to take advantage of the rich alluvial soil. The site is important for staging and wintering for several species of migratory waterbirds. The site is impressive in its desert situation. 

Gomishan Lagoon

Golestan province’s Gomishan wetland is around 17,700 hectares, which supports three IUCN Red List vulnerable species of waterbirds, i.e., Pelecanus crispus, Aythya nyroca, and Vanellus gregarious, as well as the vulnerable mammal Phoca (Pusa) caspica; it is also an important staging area for the fish subspecies Rutilus rutilus caspicas. 

More than 20,000 waterbirds have been observed in the most recent 13 years of censuses, and more than 20 species of waterbirds surpass the 1% threshold (Criteria 5 and 6), and 15 fish species depend upon the site as an important source of food (Criterion 8). 

Hamun-e-Puzak, south end

Hamun-e-Puzak, south end is located in Sistan and Baluchestan province with an area of 10,000 hectares; the Iranian portion of the vast Hamun-e-Puzak wetland, is an important area for wintering waterbirds. 
Substantial declines in bird numbers may have occurred due to widespread drought and vegetation degradation in the Sistan Basin by the construction of a dam on the Helmand River in Afghanistan.

Hamun-e-Saberi and Hamun-e-Helmand

Hamun-e-Saberi and Hamun-e-Helmand are placing on 50,000 hectares of Sistan and Baluchestan; forming a single wetland complex with Hamun-e-Puzak, consists of two shallow, predominantly freshwater lakes and associated wetlands. 

Bird populations may have declined due to drought and river control structures (dams). There is increasing pressure from urbanization and agricultural irrigation. 

Kanibarazan Wetland

Kanibarazan Wetland is located in West Azarbaijan province; stretching to 927 hectares; consists of a freshwater lake surrounded by diverse plant communities and seasonal wetlands which become dry during summer and autumn. 

Kanibarazan Wetland is one of the most important habitats for waterbirds in the region, supporting more than twenty thousand birds with more than one hundred and forty-four bird species recorded at this site, including a number of important species such as the endangered White-headed Duck. 

This site is important for water purification and water storage; it also prevents salt water from intruding into upstream areas. 

Lake Parishan and Dasht-e-Arjan

Lake Parishan and Dasht-e-Arjan, located in Fars province with 6,200 hectares, both are permanent freshwater lakes subject to seasonal fluctuations in level, fed by springs and seasonal streams. 

Parishan is subject to fluctuating salinity depending on precipitation. Both lakes are fringed by marshes dominated by reeds, and are important staging and wintering areas for numerous species of migratory waterbirds. The area also supports a variety of nesting waterbirds including pelicans, Ardeidae (herons, bitterns, etc.), and ibises. 

Zarivar

Located at the foot of the Zagros mountains in north-western Iran, Zarivar is a freshwater wetland featuring a lake fed mainly by springs from the lake floor, which is recently designated as a Ramsar Site.

The Site provides a suitable breeding and resting place for birds and other wetland animals, and due to the relatively extensive reed beds, it is an important overwintering site for northern migratory birds. 

Some 29 plant species, 74 birds, nine fish, two mammals, three reptiles and three amphibians have been identified in the wetland. 

These include some globally vulnerable species such as the lesser white-fronted goose, red-breasted goose, Amur carp and common tortoise, in addition to endemic species such as the Namak scraper and the Mesopotamian spiny eel.

Lake Urmia, Miankaleh Peninsula, Gorgan Bay and Lapoo-Zaghmarz Ab-bandan, Neiriz Lakes & Kamjan Marshes, Shadegan Marshes and mudflats of Khor-al Amaya and Khor Musa, Sheedvar Island, Shurgol, Yadegarlu and Dorgeh Sangi Lakes, Deltas of Rud-e-Gaz and Rud-e-Hara, Govater Bay and Hur-e-Bahu, Lake Kobi, Khuran Straits and Lake Gori arealso the other Ramsar Sites of the country.

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