Malawi has declared the Elephant Marsh, situated in the lower Shire valley in the south of the country, its second Wetland of International Importance*. The marsh, which forms part of the flood plain of the River Shire, is a mosaic of rooted swamp vegetation, floating flora and open water with grassy margins and reed beds, interspersed with islands containing reeds, shrubs and palm trees. In some places, floating mats of vegetation are so thick boat travel is nearly impossible. The size of the Elephant Marsh is depending on the flow of the Shire river and the Ruo river and varies from season to season and year to year - it ranges usually between 400km² to 1200km².
Malawi's second Ramsar site* was named "Elephant Marsh" by the explorer David Livingstone in 1859, who counted as many as 800 elephants in one sighting. Nowadays the elephants are largely gone, but the marsh supports over 20,000 waterbirds. Around 26 waterbird species have been found breeding in the Elephant Marsh, including fish eagles, storks, kingfishers, herons, as well as the threatened Madagascar squacco heron, wattled crane and grey crowned crane.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands by providing a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of these fragile ecosystems and their resources.
*Lake Chilwa, second-largest lake in Malawi, was declared a Ramsar site in 1996.