Caspian Sea 2011

State of the Environment of the Caspian Sea

ploitation of living aquatic resources, the criminal trade, over-regulation of wastewater discharge into rivers. Oil production and transportation are often seen as the most dangerous potential threat for coastal ecosystems both today and in the fu- ture (CEP 2006). However, human impacts such as tourism development, degradation of forests, deforestation and infrastructure development are also seriously damaging coastal ecosystems. The location of the coastal wetlands (freshwa- ter, brackish and salt marsh systems) is intimately linked to water levels in the Caspian Sea. In re- sponse to rises in sea levels, coastal wetlands ex- perience faster vertical accretion due to increased sediment and organic matter input. If vertical ac- cretion equals sea-level rise, the coastal wetland will be elevated. Direct losses of coastal wetland due to submergence can be offset by inland wet- land migration (coastal dry land conversion to wetland). The effectiveness of this process will depend on land elevations, sediment supply and the presence or absence of barriers to migration, including peripheral roads, sea walls and dikes and residential development (CEP 2007a). For example, in Gyzyl-Agachskiy Protected Area, in the south of Azerbaijan, the rise in the sea level, which once had a positive affect on ground condi- tions, is now negatively affecting the condition of ecosystems (CEP 2006). The rise in the sea level caused flooding of protected areas in the coastal strip and degradation of coastal ecosystems. The flooding of the land also caused salinization of soils, the development of hydromorphic vegeta- tion and growths of reed and cane. Flooded areas are now overgrown with dense reed bushes. Some wetlands have experienced the oppo- site. For example in Azerbaijan, the migration and wintering of waterfowl and shore birds has been affected by the drying out of wetlands and changes in vegetation. In Divichinskiy estuary, there are shallow water areas and the lagoons in the coastal zone are drying up. In recent years, changes in water levels in Lake Agzybir (the water entry point has been closed) have led to considerable ecological degradation of marsh-

lands. The water level of the lake has fallen and the flood area around the lake, with lots of bird habitats, has been reduced by 40% (CEP 2006). River deltas play an important role in the main- tenance of ecological balance in the whole Cas- pian Sea. The most significant of these are the Volga River Delta, the Kura River Delta and the Ural River Delta. The Kura River Delta is the spawning and fatten- ing area for many valuable fish species, a migra- tion route for anadromous fish and a wintering ground for birds. Regulation of the river flow, un- controlled catches (poaching), pollution of waters and the pasturing of cattle on the river banks have resulted in considerable damage to the ecosys- tem. This in turn has led to a drastic fall in popu- lations of many valuable species. The Ural River Delta is a unique delta wetland on the shore of the north Caspian Sea comprising a large variety of marine/coastal and inland wet- land types. Due to its mixed water supply and sea- sonal variations, the site supports considerable numbers and diversity of species, about 13 IUCN threatened bird species. The site is significant for migratory birds at the West Siberian-Caspian site of Siberian-East African migratory route, with dabbling and diving ducks, geese and whooping swans moulting here. There are such rare and en- dangered species as European white and Dalma- tian pelicans, pond, little and buff-backed herons, spoonbills, glossy ibises and gallinules nesting in the coastal and water ecosystems. In terms of fish, the Ural River has the only remaining spawn- ing habitats in the entire Caspian basin for all sturgeon species due still intact hydrological re- gime of the river (Lagutov 2008). The Volga River Delta, including the territory of the Ramsar wetland “Volga Delta” and Astrakhan Nature Reserve, is a unique natural area which plays a very important role in the preservation and reproduction of fish resources. Overall, in the Volga Delta and the Caspian Sea there are about 76 species of bony fish. Water bodies in


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