How to Protect Free Flowing Rivers: The Bita River Ramsar Site as an Example of Science and Management Tools Working Together
The Orinoco river basin is the third largest river in the world by volume. Its catchment encompasses 27 major sub-basins including the Bita with a catchment area of about 825,000 ha, which originates in the Colombian high plains in the Llanos ecoregion. It has been recognized as a priority area for conservation through different gap analyses and overall determined to have good health according to the Orinoco report card 2016. The natural climate and hydrologic processes, and their synergies with flooded forests, savannas, wetlands, species diversity and local economic activities, are part of a dynamic and sensitive system. With the purpose of conserving the ecological, social and cultural benefits that it brings, the Colombian Government, with the support of regional and local civil society organizations, promoted the designation of a conservation area. Technical exercises were carried out including biological and socioeconomic surveys, local stakeholder consultations and future scenario modeling. In June 2018, the Bita River basin was designated as the largest Ramsar site in Colombia, providing a worldwide example of explicit protection of riverine systems. In order to maintain this free-flowing river, land use and fisheries management, in conjunction with other conservation actions, are being implemented and provide a model of protection for freshwater ecosystems that could be replicated elsewhere.
Keywords: free-flowing, freshwater, Ramsar, conservation