Vientiane Times, 23 August 2013
Biodiversity and large mammals at a Ramsar wetland site in Champassak province are under threat from agricultural encroachment and overharvesting, a survey has found.
The survey, conducted at the Ramsar site in Pathoumphone district’s Beung Khiat Ngong village by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), found some species common to Laos could not be located in the area.
A Ramsar site is a wetland area of international environmental significance, as designated by the Ramsar Convention.
IUCN Water and Wetlands Programme Coordinator, Mr Raphael Glemet, said the results of the survey, which focused on birds and large mammals, were a bit disappointing and raised concerns over the management of the site.
“We think it is because of overharvesting and logging in the areas surrounding the site, which can directly and indirectly disturb birds and large mammals,” he said.
IUCN discussed the results of the survey during a field trip to the area this week attended by participants from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and India, who each brought experiences of Ramsar site management in their home countries.
The Ramsar site in Beung Kiat Ngong is important for many species and features rich biodiversity, which is vitally important to the livelihood of local villagers.
The 2,260ha area, covering eight villages, became a recognised Ramsar site in 2010, with Laos becoming the 160th signatory to the convention.
However a lack of proper management in the past has led to overfishing, slash-and-burn cultivation and agricultural encroachment, endangering the fragile wetland ecosystem.
Climate change is also posing a threat to water in the reservoir.
Changing weather conditions and food security problems have forced villagers to expand their agricultural areas, slowly moving deeper into the reservation.
Ms Bangon Kedkasone, a local resident, blamed the growing population as a factor in villagers’ ever-increasing lack of food security.
“In the past we had plenty of food here, but for the last few years forest products and fish numbers have rapidly decreased,” she said.
Ms Bangon said villagers had no other choice if they wanted to make a living.
The reduction in resources has not only affected villagers, but also the tourism industry.
After conducting the survey, IUCN organised workshops at the community level to explain the results and how villagers could better use their land to create a reliable income in the long run.
IUCN has also worked with authorities to create a five-year management plan for the villagers, encouraging them to become involved in activities like ecotourism to maintain their food security, livelihood and income.
Laos is home to two Ramsar sites – Beung Khiat Ngong and the Xe Chomphone wetland in Savannakhet province.
The wetland sites are regarded as vital for the survival of species and biodiversity in the country.