On July 8th, 2014, the government of Colombia declared the Fluvial Star of Inirida as a Ramsar site. This long awaited outcome concluded when a small Presidential Commission travelled to Inirida, Guainía, in the frontier region with Venezuela, and recognized the conservation value of this mosaic of forests and savannahs, and network of rivers, and wetlands. This international conservation designation protects places renowned for their biological diversity and their freshwater ecosystem richness. This declaration restricts the types of land uses to those that will ensure the maintenance of the ecological dynamics thus restricting large scale mining and agro-industry.
The Fluvial Star of Inirida is the 6th Ramsar Site in Colombia and the first in the Orinoco Basin- Amazon Biome. The overall area covers 253,000 hectares and is home to more than 900 plants species, 400 birds (60% of bird species found in the Orinoco of Colombia), 470 fish (50% of fish species found in the Orinoco River Basin), 200 mammals, and 40 amphibians. It conserves an important freshwater area in the frontier region with Venezuela, a transition zone between the Orinoco and Amazon, conserving the confluence of four different river systems, three (Atabapo, Guaviare and Inirida Rivers) that flow into the Orinoco, the third most important river in the world in terms of water volume. It is a spectacular landscape dotted by tepuys and the varied colors of the different rivers systems.
The declaration process took nearly ten years given the mining potential in this region. President Juan Manuel Santos publically affirmed in his declaration speech that protecting the environment was a priority for the country and that his government could not fail in that purpose. Furthermore he acknowledged that even though his government has conceived mining as one of the engines for development, there were places due to their biological and cultural value where mining should not take place. The President committed to the stewardship of this important region for present and future generations.
These declarations are important since a year a go the government established a one-year mining ban for those places that were under the process of being declared protected area. Though the Fluvial Star of Inirida is now under protection, other wetlands, marine ecosystems and tropical dry forests are yet to be protected. The Fluvial Star of Inirida establishes a benchmark to begin to rethink the development model based on conservation. The Governor of Inirida highlighted the opportunity to develop a tourism based economy building on this new conservation area.
Since 2007, WWF has been working with local authorities, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, local communities and the Ramsar Secretariat to realize this designation. The President recognized WWF´s efforts and contribution to this effort.
With this decision Inírida becomes the new Ramsar conservation star. This is a significant achievement for both Colombia and the world and a clear statement to support conservation as an option to support economic and social development.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, known as the Ramsar Convention after the Iranian city of Ramsar where the treaty was adopted in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty whose mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.” At the centre of the Ramsar philosophy is the “wise use” concept, defined as maintaining ecological attributes through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development. The Convention applies a broad definition of wetlands to include lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans. Colombia became a signatory to the Ramsar convention in 1998 and has previously declared 5 sites, Magdalena River Estuary- Wetlands of Santa Marta (1998), La Cocha Lake (2001), Baudo River Delta (2004), Chingaza Lakes Complex (2008), and Otun Lake and Wetlands Complex (2008).