Azerbaijan creates its First Marine National Park in the Caspian Sea
The Gizilagaj National Park is one of the most critical wetlands for wintering and breeding of aquatic birds of the Western Palearctic Zone
The biodiversity of the Caspian Sea and the coastal areas has come face-to-face with the danger of depletion in recent years. It is in large part due to the land degradation caused by overfishing and unsustainable farming. Another major threat and a pressing concern for the Caspian Sea is pollution. Furthermore, the spread of invasive species and climate change has had an even greater negative impact on the overall balance of the ecosystem.
Over the past years, the Government of Azerbaijan has implemented a number of measures within the coastal zone of the Caspian Sea to address these threats. Prominent steps forward in this regard were the decision to create the Network of Specially Protected Areas and the September 2018 Presidential decree on the establishment of the Gizilagaj National Park, as part of the Network. Azerbaijan's landmark wetland, Gizilagaj is the first marine national park in the entire Caspian Sea region.
The largest national park in Azerbaijan, Gizilagaj is located on the south-western coast of the Caspian Sea and remains one of the most critical wetlands for wintering and breeding of aquatic birds of the Western Palearctic zone. It was included in the “Ramsar List” of the Ramsar Convention “On Wetlands of International Importance” in 1975. Managing and maintaining specially protected areas requires careful planning, significant institutional capacity and investment.
Aiming to substantially upgrade the infrastructure of the Gizilagaj State Nature Reserve and the Gizilagaj State Nature Sanctuary, which are both part of the recently proclaimed Gizilagaj National Park, the Government of Azerbaijan and international organisations joined efforts to protect the authentic heritage of this coastal wetland. In 2014, the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Programme in Azerbaijan launched a joint project implemented in close collaboration with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources. The project seeks to increase the representation of effectively managed marine ecosystems in the Specially Protected Areas. The result of this joint initiative was that these conservation areas in Gizilagaj now have significantly increased their capacity and technical bases through the newly appointed equipment and a series of capacity- building trainings for employees.
Employees of the Gizilagaj National Park received substantial training in the framework of the project, and the national park was provided with monitoring, security and other specialised equipment. Boats and cars were purchased to supervise and patrol the territory of Gizilagaj. A new management plan was developed, and the previous infrastructure was rebuilt and considerably renovated.
One of the recent milestones of the project was the launch of a new state-of-the-art Tourist Information Centre at the Gizilagaj National Park. Today, the newly established national park operates at full capacity. Gizilagaj will now become a popular attraction both for domestic and international tourists, which in turn will help boost the country’s unprecedented potential for tourism development.