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Environment - Nature

New hope for Algeria's wetlands

afrol News, 20 December - Wetland conservation in Algeria received a boost as 16 new sites have been officially classified as wetlands of international importance, thus protecting them from destruction and overuse. The sites represent a large variety of ecosystems.

Spanning a total area of 167,000 hectare, the sites include complexes of lagoons and salt lakes that are representative of Algerian wetlands. With this move towards wetland protection, Algeria now comes eighth at the global level in terms of total area designated under the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, a treaty that promotes the conservation and wise use of wetlands.

This designation is all the more important in dry Algeria where water scarcity is an ever-present problem. "This is exciting news for freshwater conservation in the region," commented Francesca Antonelli, working with freshwater issues for the international conservationist group WWF.

- With more than forty wetlands added to the Ramsar list over the past four years, Algeria is taking the leading role for North Africa in wetland conservation, added Ms Antonelli.

The Algerian wetlands designated are said to be high in biodiversity. For instance, Guerbes Sanhadja - one of the sites designated previously - has over ten ecosystems represented alone. The threatened white headed duck breeds in this area, as well as the marbled teal and ferruginous duck.

The designation is an important first step, said WWF in a statement. "The next step would be to develop management plans for the sites," added Ammar Boumezbeur, the Algerian government's Ramsar representative.

However, designating Ramsar sites or designing management plans are not enough to ensure effective wetland protection. "The government has to make sure that the plans are implemented and that the status of the wetlands are constantly monitored," WWF urged.

- The designation is a powerful mechanism for raising recognition of the vital importance of maintaining wetlands for future generations, commented Spyros Kouvelis of MedWet. MedWet, founded in 1991, is a long-term collaborative effort of Mediterranean countries towards the conservation and wise use of wetlands in the region.

Over eighteen Mediterranean countries participated in a recent meeting under the Ramsar convention in Tipaza, Algeria, where the designation of the new sites was announced.

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