In April this year, 12 conservationists from Ramsar sites in 7 African countries and representing 11 different conservation organisations met at Lake Elementeita in Kenya's Rift Valley to join a 14-day Earthwatch research team. Each participant was part of Earthwatch's African Fellowship Programme which aims to build the capacity of emerging conservationists and partner organisations in Africa through scientific training and research experience.
"I realised from other fellows' presentations that wetlands in Africa face almost the same threats. With exchange of ideas and concerted effort by all relevant institutions, the solutions to problems of one wetland can lead to the solution of several in other countries. Networking can help solve problems worldwide."
John Abraham, Together Rural Development Solidarity, Ghana
The team was tasked with answering the question: Does Lake Elementeita meet the Ramsar criteria? The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty adopted in 1971 to recognise wetlands which are extremely important for biodiversity conservation and the well-being of human communities.
By recording the chemical make-up of the water, establishing the number of lesser flamingos, and surveying the diversity of bird and acacia-dwelling moth species, the team was able to put together a picture of the ecological value of Lake Elementeita and how the lake and its environs differ from that of others in the Rift Valley.
The Earthwatch team found that Lake Elementeita met 6 of the 8 criteria set out in the Ramsar Convention and therefore should be considered a wetland of international importance. It regularly supports over 1% of the global population of lesser flamingos and over 20,000 waterbirds in total, supports locally-threatened species such as the grey-crested helmet shrike, and is representative of a relatively undisturbed natural saline wetland ecosystem.
On the final day of the project the participants presented these findings and their recommendation, that Lake Elementeita be submitted to Ramsar for designation, to Anderson Koyo, the representative from Kenya Wildlife Service with responsibility for implementing the Ramsar convention in Kenya. As a result of the work of this team, together with ongoing monitoring undertaken by Kenya Wildlife Service, a commitment has now been made to take this designation forward to help protect the lake and the unique ecosystem around it for future generations.
‘This has also provided me with the insight into the importance of working with the neighbouring communities living near Ramsar sites and the importance of education and awareness of all communities'. Caroline Fox, Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife, South Africa
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© Steve Gray/Earthwatch