In February 2016 the Myanmar Government and the Ramsar Secretariat announced the designation of Indawgyi Lake as a Ramsar Site, marking the government's commitment to conserving this special area. Located in northern Myanmar, Indawgyi Lake and its surrounding wetlands regularly support at least 20,000 migratory and resident water birds. These include > 5,000 purple swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio; > 3,000 tufted Aythya fuligula and ferruginous Aythya nyroca ducks; > 2,000 lesser whistling ducks Dendrocygna javanica; and many other storks, geese, ducks, waders and gulls. A resident flagship species is the sarus crane Grus antigone, which provides a highlight for bird watchers.
The wetlands also provide habitat for other globally important freshwater species, including five species of globally threatened turtles and tortoises: the Myanmar peacock softshell turtle Nilssonia formosa, yellow tortoise Indotestudo elongata and Asian brown tortoise Manouria emys, all of which are categorized as Endangered, and the South Asian box turtle Cuora amboinensis and Asiatic softshell turtle Amyda cartilaginea, both of which are categorized as Vulnerable. Indawgyi also has high fish diversity, with 93 recorded species, including seven that were described only recently. Alongside its wildlife, c. 30,000 people live in the Indawgyi basin, most of whom depend on the lake to earn a living through fishing, rice farming, livestock grazing, and extracting products from the surrounding forest.
The addition of Indawgyi Lake to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance not only showcases how critical this site is for biodiversity and ecosystem services, but also highlights the need to ensure that the lake is managed carefully by the people who depend on it. Since 2010 Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working in partnership with local communities, the Forest Department and the Department of Fisheries to address unsustainable practices such as overfishing in the lake and fuelwood extraction in the surrounding forests. Fuelwood extraction and consumption have been reduced through fuel-efficient stoves and community forestry.
To improve fisheries management, local communities have participated in the designation of fish conservation zones to protect fish breeding and nursery grounds. The Department of Fisheries has recently approved nine community-managed fish conservation zones, including a no-take zone around Shwe Myint Zu Pagoda, an iconic cultural building on the western side of the lake. Indawgyi's outstanding cultural and natural heritage is also attracting an increasing number of tourists. To ensure tourism is sustainable and benefits local people, FFI has launched a community-based ecotourism initiative that offers new adventures such as kayaking, cycling and trekking, all of which provide jobs for local youth.
Designation of Indawgyi Lake as a Ramsar Site will ensure the long-term conservation and wise use of what is Myanmar's most important wetland and only second Ramsar Site. The government is also committed to designating additional Ramsar Sites to create a national network of protected wetlands. But despite the progress for conservation highlighted by the designation, major challenges lie ahead—in particular, illegal artisanal gold mining on streams in the watershed, which is causing sedimentation and pollution in the southern part of the lake.