Myanmar’s environmental conservationists celebrated a rare victory this week in honor of a 53,000-acre stretch of wetlands in Mon State that was designated a protected location under the Ramsar Convention.
Ramsar sites secure international recognition as the most significant wetlands in the world and are protected under the Ramsar Convention, a 1971 intergovernmental environmental treaty.
Mon State’s Gulf of Mottama marked its newly attained Ramsar status with a May 30 ceremony in Kyaikto township.
At the ceremony, Mon State Chief Minister U Aye Zan welcomed the Ramsar status, but cautioned that protection efforts must not subside.
“The Gulf of Mottama is facing threats just like other places around the world. We are facing a sudden loss of fish resources in the region, a decline in local fish production, a lack of job opportunities, formation of sandbanks, collapse of cliffs as a result of changes in sea route, and loss of farmlands and homes due to illegal fishing methods and excess fishing,” he said.
He urged members of the public to cooperate with conservation efforts.
Ko Thant Zin Phyo, a project officer from the community-led coastal management team in the Gulf of Mottama, called on the local authorities to help draft and enforce much-needed policies.
“We need to draw up management plans to reduce irresponsible fishing methods and create ways to catch fish,” he said. He added that his team has spent the last two years working with local residents along the coastline to promote awareness of the unique environment.
The Gulf of Mottama, also called the Gulf of Martaban, extends 53,510 acres between Kyaikto and Bilin townships.
“I’m very happy about the recognition,” said U Hla Shwe from Sut Pa Nu Village. But he added that he’s already seen negative environmental impacts on the coast.
“Hilsas [a type of herring] were abundant in our area in the past. Now, they have become very rare. Preservation is needed,” he said.
The Gulf of Mottama is the fourth wetland in Myanmar to be designated a Ramsar site. The other three wetlands “of international importance” are the Moe Yun Gyi wetlands in Bago Region, Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State and the Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary in Ayeyarwady Region.
According to the Ramsar organization, the Gulf of Mottama supports a large range of species, including up to 90,000 migratory waterbirds. The site may be host to more than half of the remaining population of critically endangered spoon-billed sandpipers.