Nabajjuzi wetland, also a Ramsar site, is located in Masaka district central Uganda some 120km southwest of Kampala. The wetland system comprises a linear swamp on the floor of the Nabajjuzi river valley and covers 2,144 hectares at an altitude of 1,200 – 1,300m a.s.l. The Ramsar site extends north along the Nabajjuzi valley for 40kms from Masaka town to its confluence with the (equally swampy) main swamp of the Katonga River which drains into Lake Victoria. Nabajjuzi therefore is a tributary of Katonga River basin.
The wetland system is dominated by Cyperus papyrus with patches of Miscanthus violaceus. Small open water pools support Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea. Nabajjuzi wetland remains relatively intact despite a long history of resource extraction by local communities. However growing use of wetland products for commercial purposes as well as subsistence use has led to increased levels of harvesting. Some of the surrounding areas have been modified and are built up into trading centres and small towns and this has further caused an increase in demand for resources. The wetland is the main source of piped water for residents of Masaka town. A major cause for concern is a tannery which discharges effluent into the wetland no more than 400m from water extraction and treatment plant.
Nabajjuzi wetland is dominated by Cyperus papyrus with patches of Miscanthus violaceus in most parts. The swamp interior supports communities of Kostchya sp., a common shrub in C. papyrus swamps. The wetland margins contain species such as Alchornea sp., Phoenix reclinata, Cyperus denudatus, Dissotis trothae, Pennisetum purpureum, Harungana madagascariensis, Erythrina abyssinica, Ludwigia abyssinica, Afromomum sp., and Triumfetta brachyceras. Small, scattered pools are lined with Fimbristylis sp., Loudetia phragmitoides and contain Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea and macrophyte species in the open water. The seasonal flood plains are mainly wooded grasslands dominated by Acacia species especially in the upper catchment valleys of the swamp.
The Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei), an antelope that inhabits wetlands, occurs in Nabajjuzi wetland. The antelope is globally threatened and is described as a species of national importance in the status of mammals of Uganda. Nabajjuzi Wetland System has been identified as an Important Bird Area which contains a number of vulnerable and threatened species of birds. Notable species include the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) (globally vulnerable), Papyrus Yellow Warbler (Chloropeta gracilirostris) (globally Vulnerable) and Papyrus Gonolek (Laniarius mufumbiri) (globally near-threatened). Nabajjuzi seasonal wetlands are home and breeding areas to Uganda’s national bird, the Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum).
The system is noted for two fish species indigenous to Nabajjuzi wetland the Mud fish 'Clarias mossambicus' and Lung fish 'Protopterus aethiopicus' and a major source of protein for local communities. These species are important to the local fisheries, and spawn in the wetland on the onset of the rainy season.
The population living beside the southern part of Nabajjuzi wetland are predominantly sub-urban residents of Masaka and neighbouring townships while communities adjoining the northern part of the wetland practice subsistence lifestyles. Both groups extract water from the wetland; in the case of Masaka this is pumped and treated by a plant adjacent to the swamp. Rural communities also water cattle while the seasonal wetlands are used for grazing. A range of plant materials are harvested for thatching, medicine and crafts. Papyrus and Loudetia sp etc are used to produce baskets, mats, chairs etc which are sold at the observatory, occasionally along the road or taken to local trading centres. The wetland is also a source of Mudfish (Mmale) Clarias and Lungfish (Mamba) Protopterus.
There is evidence of wetland edge cultivation with incidences of wetland encroachment and the problem will intensify with the rapidly increasing population and expansion of the urban centres. Local residents have yet to make much of an impact on the Ramsar site’s 2,144 hectare area but the rate at which damaging activities are accelerating is worrying, especially on the wetland margins of Masaka and other towns within the Nabajjuzi valley system.
The most specific and localised threat to the wetland system is pollution from a tannery situated on an area of about 10 acres of land immediately adjacent to the wetland. Effluents from the tannery are discharged directly into the wetland and this is a big pollutant that is likely to cause biodiversity loss, changes in water quality and threats to public health, generally compromising the ecosystem health and impairing the ecological functioning of the wetland. The communities living nearby draw their water from the same wetland and some of the springs are quite close to the points of discharge. The Masaka Municipal Council waterworks are also situated only a few hundred meters away from the tannery. There are also open troughs containing the refuse. This poses a health hazard and life threat to the communities. It was not clear whether an Environmental Impact Assessment or environment audit were done. The Sitatunga, another Nabajjuzi resident affected by habitat loss is also threatened by hunting, especially by the military personnel based in Masaka.
NatureUganda in partnership with Wetlands Management Department (WMD) is supporting the Masaka Youth Development Organization, a community-based organization, to develop and provide eco-tourism services. Communities and schools have been empowered through education for sustainable development programmes. This initiative is intended to provide motivation to wetland edge communities to participate in the management and conservation of Nabajjuzi wetland. Other initiatives include the support to Masaka Municipality and local communities to develop and implement a Community-based Management Plan for Nabajjuzi Wetland. The plan has been completed with the full participation of the local community and Masaka local government staff. Highlights of the management plan include eco-tourism development, fish farming, tree planting and wetland edge gardening.
NatureUganda has also implemented research and educational activities in Nabajjuzi wetland. From the research findings, Nabajjuzi wetland system qualifies as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Eco-tourism Facility – The Observatory
Nabajjuzi wetland boosts of one of NatureUganda’s most active community-based eco-tourism facility – the Observatory, for bird watching and nature walks. The site, located on the outskirts of Masaka town along the Masaka-Mbarara highway is famous for Shoebill and Sitatuga viewing.