The Norashen state reserve, a part of Sevan National Park, is an important nesting area for an endemic species of Armenia, the Armenian gull, which is included in both the international and local red books.
These gull colonies, nesting on ‘The Gull Island’ are a notable part of the whole of Asia Minor, and is one of the largest nest colonies in the Caucasus and in the world. During the last few years, due to the decision of the government of Armenia to raise the water level of Lake Sevan, the gull island is gradually being covered with water.
In the late 1990’s as a result of the drop in the water level, a land joint between one of the gull islands and the shore appeared, making the island risky because of the land predators and poachers. Then ‘The birds of Armenia’ project was launched, under the patronage of an American-Armenian, Sargis Hakobyan. The island was artificially separated from the shore, thus saving part of the colony.
The author of the ‘Gull Island’ project was prominent Armenian Ornithologist, Martin Adamyan. It’s also him, who explored the Armenian Gull, which was formerly classified as a subspecies of European Herring Gull (Larus Armenicus).
‘The Armenian gull is distinctive with a small red dot on the beak’ says Silva Adamyan, the daughter of the ornithologist, who is studying birds and protecting them too. She says, that environmentalists often visit the nesting areas of Armenian gulls.
‘We are trying to assess the number of the population visually – says Silva Adamyan – and it seems, to have decreased. However, if you go along the shore, you can notice, that on the tiny islands too, there are small gull colonies. So their population has divided. Researching the population in this case is important in terms of preserving the species.
She thinks, that the water level of Sevan must undoubtedly be raised, however, serious research is needed to save the biodiversity. For example, regions must be selected as gull nesting preservation areas, and a relevant program must be developed.
According to the representative of the Agency of Biological Resources Management of the Ministry of Environmental protection of Armenia, Sevak Baloyan, there is no special state program for the preservation of the gull population.
‘The Armenian gull is a ‘flexible’ species, and have considerable adaptive qualities. That’s why, I think, the raising of the water level will not be a problem for the nesting areas of the gulls – they will adapt to any conditions and will find new nesting areas’ thinks Baloyan.
The raising of the water level started in 2000 and was planned to continue for 30 years, and generally has had a positive effect on the ecology and the biodiversity of the lake. Particularly small islands close to the shores were created, the opportunity for the birds to stop and feed has occurred, and this has started to attract a large number of birds for the nesting, wintering and migration season. And throughout this period on the gull island a small colony of nests of various other birds has occurred, which were not here for the previous 30 years.
The head of the Department for Species of special protection of the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Armenia, Aram Agasyan is sure that in the upcoming years the island will not go underwater, and the project of the level raising, allows that throughout these 30 years, the various species of animals and plants get adapted to the new conditions.
‘Water level raising in short periods can cause ecological issues. However according to our forecast, the 30 year time-period, will not cause any serious ecological changes, and the vice versa, for example the wetlands expand’ he says.
However Silva Adamyan thinks, that despite the fact that the rising of the water level of Sevan has, in general, a positive influence on the Armenian birds, the flooding of already existent nesting areas of the Armenian gull is a troubling fact.
‘The birds will have to move from one island to the other, which certainly are not so convenient for nesting. And in this aspect, I see a danger for the Armenian gulls population during this migration from Norashen reserve island’ says Adamyan.
According to the head of the Zoology Institute laboratory, ornithologist Mamikon Ghasabyan, a greater danger is the poachers and tourists on motorboats, who disturb the reproduction by going too close to the colonies during the hatching season.
'All we can do, is to forbid the motorboats go close to the islands. That's also simply all we should do, since the island is a protected area by itself, because of being surrounded by water. The access of humans to the island must be prohibited from May, the hatching period, to July, the period when the chicken leave the nest’ thinks Ghasabyan.
According to the Armenian red book, during 2010, the population of the Armenian gull is unstable and depends on the nesting and feeding. Averagely, their number varies from 800 in the summer and 500 in the winter. ‘These outdated numbers were actual in 80’s, today, - according to the ornithologist - their population reaches around 14000 to 16000 families. Around 45% of them live on Lake Sevan, and a major part of the population lives on Lake Arpi, on the north of Armenia, close to the Georgian border.
But the situation may repeat already on lake Arpi, where, according to Ghasabyan, the water level was dropped for the purposes of irrigation, and the colony islands are already available for the foxes and other animals.
‘The main places for nesting of this species are located in Armenia, so if we lose it, then the whole population will be lost’, says Mamikon Ghasabyan.