South-East Asian nations share Ramsar experiences
South-East Asia's wetlands are very important for biodiversity, national economies and the wellbeing of human communities. Historically, they have been viewed as unproductive areas, and converted to other land-uses, and many important wetlands in the region remain unprotected and under threat. In recognition of their importance, countries in the region have signed up to the Ramsar Convention, under which they commit to wise use of wetlands and to designate and conserve internationally important wetland sites.
Thailand recently hosted a round table and study tour, involving government and civil society organisations from Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam, to share experience with Ramsar implementation. The visit was organised by BirdLife International and hosted by the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (Thailandís Ramsar Administrative Authority (RAA)) and the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST, BirdLife in Thailand). BirdLife chose Thailand for the round table and study tour because of the country's strong commitment to Ramsar implementation, the good progress made with the designation of Ramsar Sites, and the very active programme of wetland conservation by local and national government departments.
The round table discussed and agreed on priorities for implementing the Ramsar Strategic Plan 2009-2015, and the Ramsar Programme of Communications, Education, Participation and Awareness (CEPA). CEPA is a tool to support the implementation of the Convention at all levels from site to international level. The round table also explored ways of ensuring sustainability in the implementation of the Convention at national level including sustainable financing and putting in place institutional structures (such as national focal points, and national wetland committees). Participants talked about plans in each country to designate new Ramsar Sites; current priorities include Tram Chim in the Mekong Delta (the most important wintering site for Sarus Crane Grus antigone in Vietnam), Preak Toal (a huge waterbird colony in Cambodia) and key sites in the Inner Gulf of Thailand.
"We wanted the other countries to benefit from Thailandís experience in gaining support and communicating the benefits of Ramsar designation" —Simba Chan, BirdLife International
For the study tour, delegates were taken to the Inner Gulf of Thailand, south of Bangkok, where BCTS has been advancing wetland conservation, working with local groups and communities, and encouraging Ramsar Site designation. They found that local communities had a better understanding of the importance of the sustainable use of wetland products, and in general they all supported the Ramsar designations. BCST has been supporting activities of the Local Conservation Group at Khok Kham, a wintering ground of Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus. The delegates talked to local groups about attitudes to Ramsar designation and similar issues facing them.
Day two of the study tour took them to the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, which is now managed as a Ramsar site, but has a challenging history that other countries could gain valuable lessons from. The tour participants learnt that communication between conservationists and the local community is very important. Constant work with the local community may change their attitude to the protection of the site. "The main reason for the round table and study tour was to create a full, shared understand of the new strategic plan, and of CEPA, as well as to develop programmes of work between BirdLife partners and the RAAs in the participating countries", said Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Officer in the BirdLife Asia Division. "We wanted the other countries to benefit from Thailandís experience in gaining support and communicating the benefits of Ramsar designation, which has enabled the country to designate 11 Ramsar sites."
The round table and study tour was undertaken as part of a wider project to strengthen partnerships for Ramsar implementation in South-East Asia, which is sponsored by the UK Government's Darwin Initiative, the Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund, and the Ministry of Environment (Government of Japan).
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