Tana River Delta becomes the 6th Ramsar Site in Kenya


The Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands announced the listing the Tana River Delta as a Wetland of International Importance on its website on the 12th October 2012. The Tana River Delta Ramsar Site covers 163,600 hectares at 02°27’S 040°17’E. It becomes the 6th Ramsar site in Kenya and the first outside the Rift Valley. The Tana River Delta is an Important Bird Area (IBA) in Coast Province, and the second most important estuarine and deltaic ecosystem in Eastern Africa. It comprises a variety of freshwater, floodplain, estuarine and coastal habitats with extensive and diverse mangrove systems, marine brackish and freshwater intertidal areas, pristine beaches and shallow marine areas that form productive and functionally interconnected ecosystems.

This diversity in habitats permits diverse hydrological functions and a rich biodiversity including coastal and marine prawns, shrimps, bivalves and fish, five species of threatened marine turtles and IUCN red-listed African elephant (Loxodonta africana), Tana Mangabey (Cercocebus galeritus), Tana River Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus rufomitratus) and White-collared Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis albotorquatus). Over 600 plant species have been identified, including the endangered Cynometra lukei and Gonatopus marattioides.
As one of the only estuarine staging posts on the West Asia – Eastern Africa coastal flyway, it is a critical feeding and wintering ground for several migratory waterbirds such as waders, gulls and terns.

Kenya presently has six Ramsar Sites, covering an area of 265,449 hectares. The other Ramsar sites in Kenya are: –

1.Lake Nakuru
It was listed as a Ramsar site on the 5th June 1990. It covers 18,800 ha at 00º24’S 036º05’E. It is part of ’Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley’ World Heritage site (2011) and a National Park. The lake is very shallow, strongly alkaline, with surrounding woodland and grassland, fed by four seasonal rivers and the permanent Ngosur River. A number of ecosystems including sedge marshes, seasonally flooded and dry grasslands, swampland riparian forests, and various types of scrubland support some globally endangered mammal species such as the black rhino and the hippo, as well as regionally endangered bird species like the African Darter (Anhinga rufa), Great Egret, the range-restricted Grey-crested Helmet-shrike, the Lesser kestrel and the Madagascar pond heron.

2.Lake Naivasha
The lake became a Ramsar site on 10th April 1995. It cover 30,000 ha at 00º46’S 036º22’E. It is located in a high altitude trough of the Rift Valley and one of the few freshwater lakes in Eastern Africa. The site comprises a crater lake, river delta, and a separate lake (lake Oloiden) dominated by blue-green algae and soda-tolerant plants. It supports a complex vegetation of terrestrial (Acacia xanthophloea), riparian and littoral plants such as papyrus and Potamogeton, providing foraging and breeding ground for many resident and migrant bird species, including more than 350 species of waterbirds, with 1% of the world population of Fulica cristata. Hundreds of hippopotamus and several species of large mammals including buffalo and waterbuck live in the riparian area.

3.Lake Bogoria
It became a Ramsar site on the 27th August 2001. It is both a World Heritage Site and a National Reserve. It covers 10,700 ha at 00°15’N 036°05’E. It is an alkaline soda lake hydrologically dominated by hot springs, located in Gregory Eastern Rift Valley. The site provides critical refuge for the lesser flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor), with a population of 1 to 1.5 million, and has high biodiversity values for more than 300 waterbird species. The shoreline fringe and associated acacia woodland provide critical habitat for the endangered Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsciseros) and other mammals

4.Lake Baringo
It became the 4th Ramsar site in Kenya on the 10th January 2002. It covers 31,469 ha at 00°32’N 036°05’E. It is also a National Reserve consisting of an important freshwater (less alkaline) lake in the primarily arid Kenyan Rift Valley and its surrounding riparian zones. Its central island, Ol Kokwe, embodies the remains of a small volcano. It is part of the Great Rift Valley system of faults and cliffs and is fed by several freshwater inflows from the Mau and Tugen hills. The lake provides critical habitat and refuge for nearly 500 bird species. Some of the migratory waterbird species are of regional and global conservation significance, with more than 20,000 individuals reported. The lake is an invaluable habitat for seven freshwater fish species, of which one (the tilapia Oreochromis niloticus baringoensis) is endemic to the lake.

5.Lake Elmenteita
It was listed as a Ramsar site on the 5th September 2005 and as a ‘Lake System in the Great Rift Valley’ World Heritage site in 2011. It covers 10,880 ha at 00°46’S 036°23’E. Lake Elementaita is a shallow saline, alkaline lake which provides a favorable environment for diatoms and the blue-green alga Spirulina platensis, which lie at the basis of the food chain of several bird species. An average of 610,000 birds of more than 450 species (of which 80 are waterfowl) have been counted in the area, and the lake hosts an average of 28.5% of the world population of Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor). During the dry season, black lava islands provide the only suitable nesting and breeding grounds for Great White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) in the Rift Valley region.

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