When It Rains it Floods: The Need for Wetlands
It’s World Wetlands Day, and forty-six years to the day that the Ramsar Convention for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands was signed. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty. Every year, on 2 February, World Wetlands Day is celebrated to raise awareness of the value of wetlands to us and our natural environment. In recent years, the quality of wetland areas have been steadily declining. The benefits of maintaining healthy wetland areas are innumerable, and range from providing a source of food, freshwater supply, building materials and climate change mitigation among others.
To date there are 2,231 Ramsar Sites across the globe. The criteria for establishing wetlands of international importance focuses on sites that are either rare or unique. Within the National Protected Areas System (NPAS) of Belize, there are two protected areas that fit this criteria. In 1998, the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was officially designated a Ramsar Site, with Sarstoon Temash National Park achieving this status in 2005.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (1984)
The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1984 and is replete with evidence of Belize’s colourful biodiversity. This site is the home of a variety of local and migratory birds for which bird watching is a popular activity for locals and tourists alike. Birds are nature’s little nomads; they travel across the breadth of Belize, similarly soaring through the Petén region of Guatemala and Southern Mexico. All converge at the sanctuary which serves as an important breeding hub. In total, 276 bird species have been spotted at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, of which is Jabiru is perhaps the most notable.
Wetlands help to minimize the effects of storm damage and flooding. When the Belize River is flooded, this reserve acts as an overflow basin.
FACT: Crooked Tree was first settled in 1750 by the British and became an important site for the extraction of logwood. From logwood, a total of seven different dyes were produced for export to Europe. Crooked Tree is likely the earliest inland European settlement in Belize.
Sarstoon Temash National Park (1994)
Sarstoon Temash was formally designated in May, 1994 as a National Park. In total, the park stretches across over 41,000 acres. This makes it one of the largest national parks in the country of Belize. Sarstoon Temash is a diverse wetland complex. In it, lies a highly developed riverine mangrove system. Sarstoon Temash is in part managed by the indigenous communities of Southern Belize making it an example of protecting both environmental and cultural diversity.
As for its biodiversity, a total of 386 plant species have been identified within the National Park – many of which are not to be found elsewhere. Similarly, 42 fish species have been identified, 25 or which are marine as well as 226 bird species including the Montezuma Oropendula, the Great Kiskadee, and the Black-headed Trogon.
FACT: In 1989, Sarstoon Temash was found to have the highest populations of Black Howler Monkeys in Belize. One year later, visiting researcher Dora Meyer reported hearing the distinctive call of its relative, the Mantled Howler Monkey. Efforts to locate the Mantled Howler within the reserve however, did not materialize.