12 February 2013

Namibia: Wetlands Are Productive and Valuable Eco-Systems

Windhoek — Namibia's tourism activities focus almost exclusively on the country's desert landscapes and its abundant wildlife, as compared to its wetlands.

According to the Director of Natural Resources Management in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Louisa Mupetami, many of the country's wetlands have already been visited but are usually not perceived as highly productive and valuable ecosystems by both visitors and residents. Mupetami was speaking on behalf of the Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta.

Another factor why wetlands are not perceived as important, he said, is the fact that many of Namibia's wetlands are ephemeral and temporary, such as the Etosha Pan, while permanently flowing rivers are only found along the country's borders.

"But it is exactly these rivers that provide numerous opportunities for rural development and job creation, because they flow through communal land, have huge seasonal floodplains and provide abundant resources and tourism opportunities," said Mupetami. She said there are great wetland-based tourism opportunities that are not yet fully explored.

"The tourists did not realise that the great number of flamingoes that gather at the site, which tourists come to view, are there only because of the habitat provided by the wetland," Mupetami said, referring to the Walvis Bay Lagoon.

The Etosha Pan, Sandwich Harbour and the Walvis Bay Lagoon at the coast and the lower Kavango River are some of the wetlands that draw large numbers of tourists every year and through that contribute to the national and local economies.

In 2012, the ministry with assistance from the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) and the Ramsar Convention Secretariat undertook a project on wetlands and eco-tourism. The specific reason for the project was to assess the current and potential uses and values of wetlands for local communities and the tourism industry in the country.

It was also to raise the profile of target wetlands and to increase awareness of local communities and the tourism sector about the value of wetlands and their potential for eco-tourism. "To assess how wetland eco-tourism can improve the livelihoods of especially rural communities," Mupetami added.

As part of the outcome of the project, promotional materials on eco-tourism materials and biomes of Namibia, in the form of brochures and posters were developed, which were launched last week. A biome refers to a major regional or global biotic community, such as a wetland, tropical rainforest, grassland or desert, characterized chiefly by the dominant forms of plant life and the prevailing climate.

A documentary DVD on wetlands and eco-tourism was also developed. The ministry is reviewing the management of the wetlands and is working on getting management plans developed for key sites.

The ministry is also actively engaged in identifying new sites that meet the criteria of the Ramsar Convention for listing. "However, all wetlands are important, whether they are listed or not, and provide us with important services and need to be looked after," the Deputy Director of Scientific Services in the ministry Kenneth /Uiseb said.

Namibia is a party to the Ramsar Convention since 1995 and has four wetlands listed under the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands of International Importance. These are the Orange River Mouth, Sandwich Harbour, Walvis Bay Lagoon and the Etosha Pan. All four sites, located in national parks, were selected based on the role they play globally in the conservation of biodiversity, especially bird diversity.

NNF Technical Advisor Dr Julian Fennessy explained the importance of biomes in Namibia, noting that there are viable solutions that can maintain biodiversity, while at the same time promoting sustainable development. The posters that were launched on the biomes of Namibia include savannah and desert biomes. The savannah biome supports most of the economic activities in the country, starting from livestock production to tourism and wildlife-based activities.

The desert biome is important for the unique biodiversity it supports and is also an important player in tourism due to its landscape and scenery, according to Fennessy.

A wetland is a land area saturated with water, permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem. What distinguishes a wetland from other landforms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that is adapted to its unique soil conditions. The water found in wetlands can be saltwater, freshwater or brackish water.

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