An international eco-label

The Ramsar Convention on wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that was adopted on 2 February 1971 at Ramsar in Iran. It now concerns over 160 countries, including France which signed up in 1986. The Ramsar Convention works to conserve the various habitats (rivers, lakes, coastal lagoons, mangrove forests, flooded forests, coral reefs, etc.) whose common point is that they are recognised worldwide as being of ecological interest. This designation is an international eco-label, not regulatory protection or a binding measure of some kind.

This eco-label attests to the sustainability of prior management practices and indicates that the precious heritage we receive needs to be safeguarded by the rational utilisation of resources.

Third Ramsar zone in French Guiana

In French Guiana a third Ramsar zone has been designated in the central section of the coastline in the districts of Iracoubo and Sinnamary. It is further evidence of the outstanding interest of the French Guianese coast which already had the Ramsar zones of the Kaw Marshes (in the East) and the Basse Mana (in the West).

It includes the estuaries of the Sinnamary and Iracoubo rivers, Yiyi marshes (or pripris as they are known), as well as the neighbouring mangrove forests.

This set of wetlands covering more than 20,000 hectares is owned by the Coastal and Lakeside Protection Agency (Conservatoire de l’Espace Littoral et des Rivages Lacustres), which holds the land and puts sustainable management practices in place.

A site meeting multiple criteria

This natural area is a privileged habitat for many species thanks to the diversity of its environments. It is recognised as being of international importance since it meets five of the nine criteria for safeguarding biodiversity:

• “It supports vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species or threatened ecological communities”.

The West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) is found in the brackish water along the coast and particularly in the estuaries of the Sinnamary and Counamama rivers. This fragile Sirenia is on the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is listed in appendix 1 of the Washington Convention

•“It supports plant and/or animal species at a critical stage in their life cycles, or provides refuge”. This area is an important place of call for many migrating birds and feeding and breeding ground for green sea turtles and spectacled caimans and musky caimans.

•“It regularly supports 20,000 or more waterbirds” (especially species of sandpipers)

• “It regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of waterbird”. The site is home to 5% of the world population of the Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla).

• “It is an important source of food for fishes, spawning ground, nursery and/or migration path on which fish stocks, either within the wetland or elsewhere, depend” (for instance ray fish, grey mullet, fry, and especially shrimp and tarpon).

A dynamic site

This wetland is part of the tropical biogeographical region of Amazonia. It includes diverse coastal sedimentary formations from the Quaternary period, overlaying the Guyana Shield made up of Precambrian* rocks. Most of these formations developed due to a very active sedimentary dynamic (due to the proximity of the estuary of the Amazon).

The zone is mainly composed of coastal marshes made up of various plant formations.

Mangrove forests preceding wooded dune systems with dips where the freshwater marshes or “pripris” lie.

This Pripris de Yiyi are fed by the drainage basin of the Yiyi creek. They are dominated by different types of wetland in different stages of colonisation by plants, meaning that there is a range of animal species dependent on these environments.

Mudflats are active formations and found at the site. They play a key role in the “emergence of life”. The structure and the maturing of the mud (made up of silica and aluminium), the movement of the tides, and the action of the sun encourage the development of microorganisms (diatoms and protozoa*) which are at the base of a food chain with macro vertebrates at the top (crabs, waders, and birds of prey). The productiveness of a mudflat may be very clearly seen at low tide when thousands of waders flock to it.

Different species of mangrove tree progressively colonise the mudflats and fix the sediments in the tidal zone. The mangrove forests provide a range of habitats and feeding grounds for numerous marine species (ray fish, grey mullet, tarpon, fry, shrimp, etc). The ground on which the mangrove trees grow gradually builds up and rises above the tidal zone.

Halophilic species are gradually replaced by freshwater forest species such as the montouchi (Pterocarpus officinalis) of the flooded forests.

The sandbars are due to deposit of sandy alluvium and dunes in the Quaternary period. These areas of ground above the water level enable other coastal species to develop that are able to tolerate poor astringent soil. The pripris are cut off by these sandbars and act as home to numerous aquatic animal and plant species such as the spotted hoplo catfish (Megalechis thoracata) and bladderworts (carnivorous plants), as well as acting as a nursery for the spectacled caiman (Caïman crocodilus) among other species. It has rich, varied bird life.

Savannahs rise between 2 and 5 metres above sea level that can be flooded to varying degrees, a characteristic feature of the coast in French Guiana with low plants and shrubs with moriche palms (Mauritia flexuosa) in places.

Lastly the estuaries and rivers (the Iracoubo, Counamama, and Sinnamary) and creeks (Yiyi, Canceler, and Malmanoury) have particularly dense and abundant riverside plants.

The various habitats of this patchwork of landscapes are home to specific species, and play a major role in safeguarding biodiversity.

The Sinnamary Nature Institute

The Coastal Protection Agency is committed to welcoming an ever wider audience, and has therefore decided to open part of the zone to the public, the Petits Pripris de Yiyi. This site benefits from stringent protection measures, and is ideal for discovering the nature of French Guiana. A discovery trail goes through the various characteristic environments at Yiyi. As you go around the savannah, forest, marshes, and creeks, you may come upon egrets, finfoots, muscovy ducks, flycatchers, and shy capybaras. Three observatories have been built for amateur ornithologists, who can watch the anhinga and osprey feeding. Surrounded by the orange-winged Amazon parrots and kitted out with a headlamp (and mosquito repellents), head for the marshes to watch the little red glows on the surface of the water – the reptiles are out in force.

The diversity of the wildlife is directly related to the diversity of the environments that make up this unique landscape.

An ecomuseum (free admittance) is open on Wednesdays, weekends, and bank holidays. You will find everything you need (an exhibition, aquariums, works of natural history) to identify what you have observed. SEPANGUY staff (Society for the Study, Protection, and Development of the Nature Environment in French Guiana, Société d’Etude de Protection et d’Aménagement de la Nature en GUYane, and joint manager of the site with the municipality of Sinnamary and Coastal Protection Agency) welcome the public to the Nature Institute where you can hire canoes to “plunge” into the heart of the marsh and discover the creeks which feed it.