Netherlands names three new Caribbean Ramsar Sites

The government of the Netherlands has designated three new coastal and near-coastal Wetlands of International Importance, with coral reefs, on the Netherlands Antilles island of Curaçao, a constitutent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, in the Leeward Antilles 70km north of Venezuela.

Malpais/Sint Michiel (05/02/2013; Curaçao; 1,100 ha). Important Bird Area. Malpais is a former plantation just to the north of Sint Michiel. There are two freshwater lakes and the hyper-saline St. Michiel lagoon connected to a bay in which coral reefs are found, surrounded by dry deciduous vegetation and a well-developed woodland habitat. The area provides refugee for many birds, such as the IUCN Red Listed Caribbean coot (Fulica caribaea). The lagoon also supports a significant fraction of the global population of the Common tern (Sterna hirundo) and is part of a regional network of foraging sites for the Caribbean flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), protected under the Convention of Migratory Species. Freshwater is scarce in Curaçao and therefore of great ecological, social and economic value. The dam of Malpais is located downstream. Freshwaterinfiltrates into the soil, recharging groundwater reservoirs which allow woodlands to grow in the area. Some of the current threats which may affect the ecological character of the site are the landfill and runoff from a pig farm situated only 1km away. Ramsar Site no. 2117.

Northwest Curaçao (05/02/2013; Curaçao; 2,441 ha). Important Bird Area, Natural Parks. The area comprises a great variety of ecosystems such as coral reefs, coastal lagoons with sea grass beds and mangroves, coastal limestone terraces, inland hills supporting evergreen woodland, freshwater dams, natural springs and dry deciduous shrublands. The Ramsar site includes parts of Shete Boka and Christoffel Natural Parks. The wetland covers approximately 20 km of the rocky, wave-exposed north coast of Curaçao, including 10 pocket beaches (bokas) and 3 inland bays that are used as nesting and foraging sites for threatened sea turtle species as Dermochelys coriacea and Eretmochely imbricata. There is also a breeding colony of more than 500 individuals of Least Tern. Moreover, the northwestern coast of Curaçao locally harbours a fringing coral reef, characterized by more than 50% coral cover and the presence of such critically endangered coral species as Acropora palmata and Acropora cervicornis as well as endangered fish species like the Epinephelus itajara. Some of the caves in the area were used for spiritual rituals in the past, and Indian drawings can be found estimated to be more than 5,000 years old. Numerous manmade dams in the area retain freshwater for several months after the wet season has passed. Subterraneous groundwater reservoirs in turn sustain local vegetation types year-round which are used by several bird species, pollinating bats and mammals to survive during Curaçao’s dry season. Ramsar Site no. 2119. 

Rif-Sint Marie (05/02/2013. Curaçao; 667 ha). Conservation Area, Important Bird Area. The area of Rif-Sint Marie is relatively undisturbed and undeveloped and comprises a salt mash surrounded by mud flats, shrub land, and forests. The marsh is a strategic feeding habitat for flamingos and several waterbirds. The coral reef of Rif-Sint Marie is well developed and shelters several threatened coral species such asAcropora palmata and Acropora cervicornis, as well as such endangered turtle species as Dermochelys coriacea and Eretmochely imbrica and threatened fishes like Goliath grouper Epinephelus itajara. Dense thickets of Elkhorn coral sustain major ecological processes such as gross community calcification and nitrogen fixation; dense populations of this branching species dissipate wave energy and thus protect the coast. The area is currently used for recreational purposes like hiking, biking and guided eco-tours. The major threats to the site are uncontrolled access of visitors with dogs disturbing flamingos and potentially unwise development of touristic infrastructures in the surrounding area. Ramsar Site no. 2120.