Worldwide Wetland Day, Ramsar Sites in Venezuela: What is Their State of Conservation?
Due to their exceptional importance as reservoirs of food supply and biodiversity, the wetlands of Los Roques, Laguna de Tacarigua, and Laguna de La Restinga National Parks were decreed as Ramsar Sites in 1996. Recent evaluations of these protected areas by ParksWatch-Venezuela, demonstrated that due to a fault of economic resources, illegal fishing and contamination are threatening the biological integrity of these internationally recognized sites.
Ramsar sites, included in the Ramsar Convention's List of Internationally Important Wetlands, are wetlands recognized for their importance in protecting natural resources. Two Venezuelan wildlife reserves and 3 national parks contain Ramsar sites. These areas are protected under law by both the Venezuelan government and the Convention.
The three national parks are recognized for their protection of important food resources. Laguna de Tacarigua National Park provides habitat for shrimp, flathead mullet, mullet, and snook, which are frequently consumed in Barlovento and Caracas. On Margarita Island many tourists enjoy oysters from Laguna de la Restinga National Park. This same park provides abundant fish for the regions inhabitants.
Ninety-five percent of the lobster that is consumed in Venezuela and much of its export catch is from Los Roques National Park. Conch, and various species of fish, including porgy and groupers are also caught in the park. These parks are also rich in their diversity of flora and fauna. There are 4 mangrove and marine tortoise species found within the protected areas. All species of tortoise use the parks as a nesting ground and are currently threatened to extinction. The archipelago's Los Roques and Laguna de la Restinga National Park have an estimated 100 species of birds; Laguna de Tacarigua has more that 200 species of birds, including many migratory bird species.
In 2002, Parks-Watch Venezuela completed an evaluation of the state of the conservation of these 3 national parks. The causes and magnitudes of threats to the conservation of these parks varied. However, all lacked the economic resources needed to fund appropriate management activities. Illegal fishing activity, contamination of the wetlands and waterways from neighboring villages and unregulated tourism were other problems. A complete listing of present and future threats specific to each park can be found on the ParksWatch website.
Solutions to these problems must be addressed at both the national and international level. Success in protecting these areas depends on governmental organizations such as the Venezuelan Civil Society. Furthermore, experiences like the Laguna de Tacarigua guardaparquitos program, promote environmental stewardship. A group of children is voluntarily put in charge of environmental education programs, advocating the better use of wetlands to children and adults in neighboring communities. The future of the natural resources protected as Ramsar Sites depends on everyone.
ParksWatch: February 2003