Lower Songkhram River basin – the 15th Ramsar site of Thailand

Posted on 11 June 2020

WWF, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and HSBC successfully secure the Ramsar designation for the lower Songkhram River basin – the 15th Ramsar site of Thailand
Bangkok, 10 June 2020 — The lower Songkhram River basin in northern Thailand was declared the next Ramsar site, giving one of the country’s few abundant waterways an international recognition for its rich biodiversity and ecosystem values.
Natalie Phaholyothin, CEO of the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) Thailand said the lower Songkhram River basin was declared as Thailand’s next Ramsar site under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance on 15 May 2020, making it the 15th site in Thailand.
“Of all the water on Earth, just 2.5 percent is freshwater, and most of that is locked up in ice or deep underground. Rivers and lakes hold only a tiny fraction. WWF is striving to protect and revive freshwater environments around the world, including in Thailand. It is this water that all life on land depends on.”
According to Ms. Natalie, the lower Songkhram River basin is the first Ramsar site in Thailand that was nominated as a result of the partnership between the private sector, local government and NGO sector, marking it as a remarkable case of success in conservation work.
The proposal to nominate the lower Songkhram River basin to be a Ramsar site was submitted to the Ramsar Convention Secretariat by the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, the country's focal point agency.
For the last decades, local residents have witnessed changes in the flow and levels of water after China started building a series of dams on the upper Mekong. Tides have drastically changed. Water flow in the Mekong River is dictated by discharge from dams.
Unlike other Mekong river's tributaries, the Songkram River has been left untouched from development projects such as dams and major construction.
“There are nearly 20,000 wetlands nationwide, accounting for 6-7 percent of the country’s total areas or about 23 million rai. As of now, Thailand has 14 wetland sites designated on the Ramsar List and the lower Songkhram River basin is the 15th Ramsar site. Thailand has 47 important national wetlands while 19,200 others are wetlands of local importance. Twenty-eight others are being maintained and preserved,” said Mr. Phudhiphong Suraphruk, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s spokesperson.
As part of its five-year Global Water Programme, WWF-Thailand held a conservation project entitled “The Conservation of the Lower Songkhram River” between 2016 and 2018, with financial support from the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC). Kelvin Tan, Chief Executive Officer of HSBC Thailand, the first commercial bank in Thailand, is firmly committed to conserving the environment activities in Thailand, following HSBC Group’s policy regarding environmental conservation management, sustainable development and investment in the local communities. It is a stated wish of HSBC Thailand to make positive contributions to the communities in which the bank operates.’

“A thriving natural  environment is essential for self-sustaining communities and we are honoured to be part of such a successful project that has served as an example of cooperation among the business sector, conservationists at WWF-Thailand and local residents. In addition to our financial support, my colleagues and I were also very pleased to get involved on the ground in a number of hands-on projects – experiences which really resonated with all of us, enabling us to truly understand the value of the wetlands and the importance of protecting them,” he said.

This project covers 34,000 rai of wetlands located on the lower Songkhram River, mostly in Tha Uthen and Sri Songkhram districts in Nakhon Phanom province. As the only tributary of the Mekong which still runs free and unobstructed, the Songkhram River is where 124 fish species can swim freely and use it as a spawning ground. The river also sustains 240,000 villagers who live along a 92-kilometer stretch of the river.
According to Yanyong Sricharoen, project manager and head of Water Conservation for WWF-Thailand, hundreds of people in the 49 villages were also trained to protect the ecosystem in ways such as planting more trees, making organic fertilizer to reduce toxic wastewater from farms, monitoring water quality and creating natural fish spawning areas.
“The Songkhram River is one of the most important rivers in northeastern Thailand and crucial to the livelihoods of over 1.45 million locals. The river serves as breeding grounds for fish, while also greatly contributing to the local communities’ food and economic security. The lives of more than 60 million people in four countries in the region depend on the river. Being formally recognized as Thailand’s 15th Ramsar site and the 2,420th on the Ramsar List will prevent the wetlands from disappearing, allowing the local communities to utilize the natural resources of the wetlands ecosystems more sustainably,” Mr. Yanyong explained. 
After the conservation success of the Songkhram River basin, WWF-Thailand applied the same  practice to the Nong Harn River, another important ecosystem in Sakon Nakhon, a province located in northeast Thailand where at least 133 species of fish and 156 species of birds are found.
The Nong Han River basin covers an area of 77,000 rai and is the largest natural lake in the Northeast. The lake was originally established as a source for the improvement, maintenance and conservation of aquatic animals. Nowadays, it has turned into a multi-purpose water resource that is used for consumption, agriculture and fisheries.
Notes to Editors:
Ramsar Convention
The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that provides a framework for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources. It was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar on 2 February, 1971 and came into effect on 21 December, 1975. Since then, almost 90 pecent of UN member states from all the world’s geographic regions have acceded to become “Contracting Parties”.
The convention entered into effect in Thailand on 13 September, 1998, marking the country as the 110th signatory of the Ramsar Convention. So far, there are 171 member countries in the Ramsar treaty, with over 2,300 Ramsar sites registered around the world.
The Songkram River
The Songkram River
© WWF-Thailand
15th Ramsar site , Songkram River
© WWF-Thailand