World Wetland Day 2022: Wetlands in Guyana

This week we will continue to look at wetlands in Guyana, focusing on the benefits and values of wetlands, and the need for conservation. We will also examine the North Rupununi wetlands which exists here in Guyana.
XWetlands can best be described as fresh, brackish or salty bodies of water, which can vary from large lakes to ponds, swamps, peat lands and bogs, slow streams, lagoons and estuaries. They also include ditches, water races, mining pits and hydro lakes.
Wetlands are very important and dynamic ecosystems. They support unique plants and animals, which interact with each other and the wetland environment to obtain the things they need to survive. As conditions change, the wetland, as a unit, changes, and so do the types of animals and plants they support.

The value of wetlands
Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world; they are comparable to rainforests and coral reefs. They support numerous species from all of the major groups of organisms – from microbes to mammals. In fact, they are home to more animal and plant species than any other type of habitat!
The value of a wetland and the services it provides depend on a complex set of relationships between the wetland and the other ecosystems in the watershed.
Wetlands provide a number of ecological services. They serve as nurseries for freshwater and marine fish, and store and purify water. Wetlands also replenish ground water and store carbon. They retain nutrients and sediments, and also support a wide range of animals and plants (bio-diversity). Because water drains into wetlands, they play an important role in flood control.
Wetlands are also of significant benefit to society, as they offer spaces for recreation and tourism opportunities, creating jobs and income-generating and leisure activities. They also provide food for people, and a place for them to practice some cultural traditions. Transport and research services are also provided by wetlands.

North Rupununi Wetlands in Guyana
The North Rupununi Wetland System is one of the largest wetlands in Guyana. It encompasses an area of 22,000 hectares of periodically flooded savannah and forest. These wetlands are dominated by the Rupununi, Rewa, and Essequibo Rivers, and include over 750 lakes, ponds and inlets!
Uniquely, the North Rupununi Wetlands are a portal between two major river basins, the Amazon and the Essequibo. Seasonal flooding allows aquatic wildlife from one river system to mix with the other, resulting in this huge diversity of wildlife.
Over 450 species of fish have been recorded in the area, leading to estimates of up to 600 species for the larger wetland system. This is the highest fish diversity in the world for areas of similar size.
The wetlands are also home to Guyana’s endangered giants, and they supply a food chain to these endangered species, such as the Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger), Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), Giant River Turtle (Podocnemis expansa), and recovering populations of the largest freshwater fish in the world, the Arapaima (Arapaima gigas).

Importance of the North Rupununi Wetlands
The North Rupununi Wetlands play a crucial role in the lives of approximately 5000 residents in the area’s 16 primary communities. The rivers and waterways act as the main transportation routes and sources of drinking water. Water-loving palms and other vegetation are used for housing, craft- making, traditional medicine, and food. Additionally, fish represents a major source of protein in local communities, while other wildlife species of commercial and subsistence value depend on the wetlands for survival.
The North Rupununi Wetlands also feature a prominently Indigenous culture and folklore, and have significant aesthetic value, serving as a primary place of recreation for local residents.
North Rupununi Wetlands’ resources were respected and managed by the communities themselves through their own traditional systems. However, over time, many of these traditional systems have weakened, and many wetland resources, particularly fish, have begun to show the strain of overuse.
The challenge now is to re-establish community-based management of local wetlands resources, and work with communities to improve resource monitoring, management planning and decision-making. The North Rupununi Wetlands Project has taken up this challenge. The North Rupununi Adaptive Management Process, or NRAMP, is a decision-making tool which individuals, communities and institutions can use to develop plans to manage day-to-day livelihood activities and natural resource management scenarios. The process uses the learning cycle which forms the basis for every decision and action that we make and enact in our everyday lives. This course aims to strengthen the capacity of community members to understand the North Rupununi Adaptive Management Process, in order to develop suitable adaptive strategies for management of natural resources and community livelihoods within the North Rupununi.

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