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protecting fragile biodiversity hotspot

Kenya’s Tana River Delta becomes world’s latest Ramsar site

Kenya’s Tana River Delta becomes world’s latest Ramsar site
Tana River Delta / Image via agreenliving.org

By Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Uganda | Nov 04, 2012

(eTN) - Those with greedy eyes on this prized area, wanting to turn it into agricultural wastelands through unsustainable farming methods, will have to think twice now that the Tana River Delta has been officially recognized as the world’s latest Ramsar site, giving added protection and recognition to this fragile biodiversity hotspot.

The "Ramsar Convention” is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands and to plan for the sustainable use of all of the wetlands in their territories.

The area, recently the scene of inter-ethnic violence fueled by politicians full of tribal hatred for others with the same birthright, has since independence nearly 49 years ago seen no significant infrastructure development vis-a-vis hospitals, roads, education facilities, and other social services and is often portrayed as the “poor house of Kenya” where only subsistence farming and fishing can provide for the daily needs of the local populations, and not when the frequent droughts strike.

Few tourism businesses have established themselves in the Tana Delta, but tourists who opted to go there came back with experiences second to none, in terms of bird and game watching, after enjoying the luxury of solitude and being miles upon miles away from “civilization.”

The announcement that the area was now a Ramsar site drew immediate applause from the conservation fraternity in Kenya, expressing delight that the Ramsar Secretariat had recognized the unique beauty and global value towards protecting migratory species of birds as well as an extensive local bird population of this expanded wetland ecosystem, where the Tana River empties into the Indian Ocean. The designated area is over 400,000 acres large and after the Rufiji Delta thought to be East Africa’s second most important such river mouth wetland.

Conservation NGO, Nature Kenya, has been instrumental in achieving this global recognition and is reportedly working with the Kenyan government to develop a medium- and long-term management plan of how best to protect the delta and yet sustainably use it for tourism purposes, with the least impact on the area compared to other forms of exploitation such as fish, crab, or prawn farming or exploitative commercial agriculture.

Kenya already has 5 designated Ramsar sites in the Great African Rift Valley, namely lakes Naivasha, Elementaita, Nakuru, Bogoria, and Baringo, all of which form the foundation of a thriving tourism industry providing employment for locals, some of which have become Kenya’s foremost bird guides.

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