World Wetlands Day – “Wetlands and Tourism- A great experience”

wetland day group picture 416667Phobjikha, Bhutan – World Wetlands Day was observed on 2 February 2012 in Phobjikha-the largest wetland in Bhutan. The day marks the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971 and ever since then, the day is observed to undertake activities focussed on increasing awareness on the benefits of wetlands, both locally and globally. WWF organised the event in collaboration with the Watershed Management Division, Department of Forest & Park Services, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, and the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN).

On 10th January, 2012 during the winter session of the parliament, the National Council of Bhutan endorsed Bhutan’s accession to the Ramsar convention. Following the endorsement by the Council, the National Assembly  of Bhutan on 18th January, 2012 also unanimously accepted the accession. Phobjikha, Khothokha and Bumdeling are three  potential wetlands recognized by the government to be declared Ramsar sites.

In Phobjikha, Wangduephodrang district, annually more than 300 Black-necked cranes are estimated to visit the valley making it the largest wintering site for the cranes in the country. By the same paradigm, not only the cranes, but annually Phobjikha also welcomes scores of tourists that flock the valley to view the mystical bird in action. Befittingly, Phobjikha valley is an ideal location to observe the day and highlight the impacts of tourism on wetlands.

Following the inaugural session, the event participants were taken on a guided tour along the Gantey Nature trail overlooking the picturesque valley. While on the trail, participants saw glimpses and learnt more of the marshy crane habitats, its feeding ground, artificial lakes (managed by RSPN for roosting purposes), etc. Government officials,  local communities from Phobjikha, hikers, trekkers, tour operators, hoteliers, students, media and many more participated in the event.

Chief Guest, Director General, Department of Forest & Park Services, Ministry of Agriculture & Forests Mr. Karma Dukpa, spoke about the importance of wetlands to the gathering. He said “Wetlands have a pivotal role in influencing the landscape dynamism to sustain life and safeguard the environmental integrity. Wetlands are valuable as wildlife habitat, for agriculture, for a rich biodiversity, for economics, for soil conservation, for climate change mitigation and also on a cultural and historical context”

“Once bountiful, the safe drinking water and water for farming are getting scare these days in Bhutan. Wetland and its streams are the main sources for these purposes. If we don’t save these sources now it may be too late or very difficult to restore them in future. The loss of freshwater biodiversity from such areas is another concern altogether” said Mr. Vijay Moktan, Conservation Director, WWF-Bhutan

Text and Picture ©WWF Bhutan