Source: The Myanmar Times

Date: 23 February 2018


Conservationists have expressed grave concern over the deterioration of the country's wetlands mainly due to pollution, converting them to farmland and climate change.

Daw Thiri Dae We Aung, programme manager of the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) Myanmar, underscored the urgency of conserving these vital natural resources to prevent their condition from worsening.

She said people have put a priority on earning their livelihoods from the wetlands instead of conserving them.

"In wetlands, people's first priority is making money," she said. The expansion of farmland, climate change, and pollution are threats that the wetlands are encountering."

Wetlands are areas saturated with water, permanently or seasonally, and have their own distinct ecosystem.

They are vital to replenishing underground water, preventing floods, regulating temperatures, and absorbing carbon dioxide, according to Daw Thiri Dae We Aung.

She said that the wildlife population in wetland areas has declined due to a range of factors – lack of support from local residents, climate change and pollution.

Myanmar has four vital wetlands – Moe Yun Gyi Lake in Bago Region, Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State, Meinmahla Kyun in Ayeyarwady Region, and the southern section of Mottama Gulf.

The 45,000-hectare Mottama Gulf was designated in May 2017 as Myanmar's fourth Ramsar site, or wetland of international importance, especially as waterfowl habitat.

"If methods for long-term usage of the wetlands are not used, these areas will deteriorate," said Daw Thiri Dae We Aung.

She said residents are using wetlands now for commercial purposes.

"They're not keeping in mind that if the wetlands are destroyed, it will hurt their businesses," Daw Thiri Dae We Aung said.

She said that due to illegal fishing, electro-fishing, and expansion of farmland, the number of fish in wetland areas has decreased and the bird-feeding areas have also shrunk.

Daw Thiri Dae We Aung said that in electro-fishing, fish that are within range of the electrical current – even if they survive – can no longer reproduce.

"Moreover, small insects and algae, which are food for the fish, also die causing the fish population to dwindle," she said.

She said that at Paleik Lake, which hosts a type of plant that birds like, the number of these plants has significantly decreased as local residents expand their farms.

"The wetlands have plants that are food for birds and places for fishes to breed.

"But due to irresponsible practices, the water is being polluted and the fish population has declined," Daw Thiri Dae We Aung said.

She said government agencies should discuss and cooperate for conservation of these vital natural resources.

According to a report of the Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), fish productivity in the wetlands has fallen from 90 percent from 50pc due to excessive fishing and use of illegal fishing nets.

It warned that if the challenges facing the wetlands are not addressed immediately, the coastal economy and fish productivity will decline.

And, the number of migratory birds and other endangered species living in these areas would eventually vanish.

U Zay Maung Thein, a bird watcher, said that Moe Yun Gyi Wildlife Sanctuary is filled with fishing nets used to trap birds.

"It is really deteriorating," he said.

He added the Paleik Kake "is completely gone."

"People not only fish but also grow crops when it is dry," U Zay Maung Thein said.

He added that the hin nyant, a kind of plant that birds eat, are no longer there.

"There are no more birds at the place where people used to easily see birds. It's a shame," he said.

Daw Thiri Dae We Aung warned that fresh water will be scarcer in the next few years if the destruction of wetlands continues.

"Wetlands conservation is needed …to prevent fresh water problems in Myanmar," she said.

"Dirty mud ponds are also valuable. Although they are dirty, they are maintaining valuable underground water," she added.

Daw Thiri Dae We Aung said that the country's wetlands are not yet beyond redemption and "could be protected if the departments and organisations cooperate" with the support of the local population.