CONSERVATION

WETLANDS IN ARMENIA

Wetlands of Ararat Plain. Photo: Ad DeCort

The Wetland ecosystems of Armenia are a complex of swamps, marshes and ponds, with a total area of about 10,000 hectares and make up about 3% of the country’s territory.

Wetlands serve as habitat for 96 waterbird species and temporary shelter for 140 more species. At the same time, the total diversity of fauna and flora of wetlands numbers more than 5000 species.

Wetlands perform an essential function in ecosystems, absorbing 4 times more

Wetlands in Armenia.

carbon dioxide than forests. Thus, despite their small area – 3% of Armenia, they process the same amount of carbon dioxide as all forests in the country combined. In addition, wetlands act as natural reservoirs and biological filters for water, thus preserving valuable water potential.

What threatens wetlands in Armenia, posing danger for birds and humans?

Wetlands are home to huge diversity of birds, which breed here and find temporary destination during migration. Some, like White-tailed Lapwing, breed only in brackish marshes, others like Common Moorhen find suitable place at every kind of pond, swamp or marsh. Among migrants, there are such rare visitors as Long-tailed Duck, and as common regular migrants as Common Teal.  All of them suffer from main threats that influence wetlands – drainage, industrial and municipal pollution and human induced fires.

Wetlands in Armenia traditionally were considered useless and even harmful areas. Out of more than 30,000 hectares of wetlands in the Ararat Valley, the Sevan Basin (Gili) and the Shirak Plateau, over 60% have been drained.

This has led to a total imbalance in the aquatic ecosystems, the disappearance of the nesting sites of three bird species – the Common Scooter, White-tailed Eagle, and Black Tern, and a significant reduction in the number of other species of waterbirds, animals and plants. Drainage of wetlands negatively influences the humans as well, since wetlands are serious natural reservoir for the high-quality water. It is necessary to say, that wetlands also regulate local climate, making it milder.

Another threat to wetlands arises from their ability to filter the water and to absorb the various matters, including a huge amount of persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals. Every year, the 3,000 ha of wetlands accumulate over 300 kg of chemical pollutants.

Such pollution leads to accumulation of these substances in fish-eating birds, like Pygmy Cormorant, Purple Heron, and Red-crested Pochard, causing their high mortality and low fertility. In turn mortality of the fish-eating waterbirds causes increase of epidemics among fishes, as the weak and specimens are not removed from population by those birds anymore. This kind of pollution has significant negative impact to human communities too, because results in depleting of fish populations, and increases risks of transfer of the accumulated pollutants from fish to humans upon consumption.

Another threat that emerges every season is the burning of wetlands by the local people. Fires damage over 1,000 hectares of wetlands annually.

It entails the total destruction of nesting sites for more than 100 species of birds, many of those are game birds, such as Mallard, Gadwall, and Common Coot. Also, the arsons release the stored carbon, thus increasing the carbon emission, and negatively contributing in Climate Change. 

What we do to save wetlands and birds?

In total, out of over 230 bird species, which depend on wetlands permanently or seasonally, more than 60% are influenced by the above mentioned threats. The further degradation of the wetlands can lead to complete extirpation of at least seven, and critical decline of at least 20 bird species.

To save the waterbirds and wetland habitats it is necessary to undertake a complex approach, which will be based on the regularly collected scientific data and will unite legislative change of their conservation status, education of local people about wetlands' importance, and restoration of wetland habitats.

Do you want to contribute to protection of birds?

Photo by A. Khachatryan

If you are interested to the problems of birds and are ready to help them in crisis situations, if you take care of the environment and think about what kind of world our children will live in, then you will probably be interested in Bird Conservation Guide. In this section you can get familiar with various bird conservation activities, clarify the dates and take part in those, should you wish to.