By Faranak Bakhtiari

Wetlands: world’s most dynamic ecosystems

November 9, 2020 - 18:23

TEHRAN – Wetlands are important features in the landscape that provide numerous beneficial services for people, aquatic species, and wildlife; so that is called the most biologically diverse and dynamic ecosystems of the world.

Wetlands are ecosystems saturated with water, either seasonally or permanently. They store water and ensure its quality, providing resilience against drought. They play a central role in sustainable development by supplying all our freshwater.

Natural wetlands are a variety of habitats such as rivers, lakes, coastlines, mangrove forests, and even coral reefs. An immense variety of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals can be part of a wetland ecosystem.

They are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs.

The functions of a wetland and the values of these functions to humans depend on a complex set of relationships between the wetland and the other ecosystems in the watershed. A watershed is a geographic area in which water, sediments, and dissolved materials drain from higher elevations to a common low-lying outlet or basin a point on a larger stream, lake, underlying aquifer, or estuary.

Wetlands play an integral role in the ecology of the watershed. The combination of shallow water, high levels of nutrients and primary productivity is ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and feed many species of fish, amphibians, shellfish, and insects. Many species of birds and mammals rely on wetlands for food, water, and shelter, especially during migration and breeding.

About 20,000 different species of fish found worldwide live in freshwater (natural wetlands).

Wetlands' microbes, plants, and wildlife are part of global cycles for water, nitrogen, and sulfur. Scientists now know that atmospheric maintenance may be an additional wetlands function. Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Thus wetlands help to moderate global climate conditions.

The most beautiful, important international wetlands of Iran

Gomishan wetland

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).

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

Miankaleh International Wetland

Miankaleh International Wetland and Wildlife Sanctuary in Mazandaran stretches to a total area of 68,000 hectares. About 20,000 hectares of this area consists of forest lands, including pomegranate trees and shrubs, and raspberries. This vegetation, along with the Miankaleh International Wetland, is home to at least 130 species of migratory species with a population of 1.5 million.

Shrubs are used as a refuge for migratory birds for spawning and hatching, and wild pomegranate and raspberry trees are also used as food for these birds. In recent years, due to intentional fires, a large number of animal species in this area have become extinct.

Miankaleh peninsula is 48 kilometers long, and between 1.3 and 3.2 kilometers wide, which sets apart the Gorgan Bay from the Caspian Sea. The peninsula was designated a Ramsar site in 1975 and called Iran's bird-watching paradise.

Major habitats include wetlands, inter-tidal mud with sandy shores, shallow marine waters, forests, peatlands, and agricultural areas. It is home to many unique Caspian birds and reptile species native to this region. It's also a very important internationally-recognized refuge for migratory birds.

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.

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 saltwater from intruding into upstream areas.

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.

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, groundwater 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.

Lake Parishan and Dasht-e-Arjan

Lake Parishan and Dasht-e-Arjan, located in Fars province with 6,200 hectares, 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.

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.

Gavkhouni wetland

Gavkhouni Lake and marshes of the lower Zaindeh Rud in the central province of Isfahan stretch 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.

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