A red heron at Lake Chilika, Orissa, India. The lake is a Ramsar site.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons
World Wetlands Day is celebrated internationally each year on February 2nd. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) in Ramsar, Iran, on 2 February 1971.
Since 1997, World Wetlands Day has been used to:
- Raise public awareness of wetland values and benefits
- Promote the conservation and wise use of wetlands
Australia which was one of the 5 founding nations to sign the Convention has 66 Ramsar wetlands, covering every state and territory. They cover more than 8.3 million hectares.
Iconic Australian sites include:
- Kakadu National Park (NT)
- Roebuck Bay (WA)
- Gippsland Lakes (Vic)
- Moreton Bay (Qld)
- Blue Lake (NSW)
- Macquarie Marshes (NSW)
- Coorong (SA)
Worldwide, there are 170 Contracting Parties to the Convention and over 2,400 listed Ramsar wetlands.
2nd February 2022 is the first year that World Wetlands Day will be observed as a United Nations international day, following its adoption by the General Assembly on 30th August 2021.
The theme for the 2022 edition is Wetlands Action for People and Nature, and it highlights the importance of actions that ensure that wetlands are conserved and sustainably used. It’s an appeal to invest financial, human and political capital to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing and to restore those we have degraded.
Wetlands Form an Important Part of Nature
Wetlands are vital for humans, other ecosystems and our climate. They provide essential ecosystem services such as water regulation, including flood control and water purification. Wetland biodiversity is important for our health, our food supply, tourism and jobs. Wetlands also absorb carbon dioxide, helping to slow global warming and reduce pollution, which is why they are often called the “kidneys of the earth”.
Although they cover only about 6% of the Earth’s land surface, 40% of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands. The worrying thing is that they are disappearing three times faster than forests due to human activities and global warming.
“Wetlands are fantastic and valuable multifunctional habitats – they nurture a great diversity of life, provide water and other resources, protect us from flooding and act as giant filters for pollution,” says Corli Pretorius, Deputy Director of the World Conservation Center of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). “The loss of wetlands due to development pressure has been enormous, but these ecosystems can be restored to benefit people and nature.”
Wetlands form an important part of nature indeed. But nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. The rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with severe impacts on people around the world, according to a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Among the advantages of these waters are:
• Water filtration
• Guarantee of biodiversity
• Protection of shorelines
• Mitigate the effects of climate change
The Pantanal is the Largest Wetland on the Planet
The Pantanal is the largest continental wetland on the planet. It occupies part of the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, extending through Bolivia and Paraguay. At least 4,700 species have been recorded in the region, including plants and vertebrates. Of this total, there are 3,500 species of plants (trees and aquatic and terrestrial vegetation), 325 fish, 53 amphibians, 98 reptiles, 656 birds and 159 mammals.
The Purpose and Importance of World Wetlands Day
The purpose and importance of World Wetlands Day is to encourage the implementation, by governments, civil society organizations and groups of citizens, of actions and activities that draw society’s attention to the importance of wetlands, to the need for their protection and for the benefits that the attainment of the objectives of the Convention.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) points out that wetlands are disappearing up to three times faster than tropical forests, which explains the need for the “Decade of Restoration 2021/2030” created by the United Nations (UN) .
What can we do to Protect these Areas?
• Restore degraded wetlands
• Conserve them
• Use these areas wisely
• Do not drain them
• Don’t build on them
• Do not degrade
• Tell the world about its importance
As we begin a pivotal year for biodiversity and climate, the science could not be clearer. Wetlands are critical to delivering on our common global commitments relating to biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development.
The Special Edition of the Global Wetland Outlook recently launched by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands shows the unmatched opportunities wetlands can offer – when we take the right actions.
In fact, wetlands are our most powerful ecosystems to combat climate risk.
Peatlands as well as blue carbon systems such as mangroves and seagrass beds are the most efficient carbon sinks on earth. Peatlands alone store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined. To achieve net-zero emissions we have to protect these ecosystems, and scale up restoration where they have been lost.
Some countries such as Seychelles, Costa Rica, Indonesia and the United Kingdom are already leading the way: including wetlands targets in their nationally determined contributions.
Wetlands also underpin economic development and human health and wellbeing.
Inland wetlands – such as lakes, rivers and marshes – provide almost all of the freshwater we consume and on which our economies depend, and are crucial in maintaining water quality. By absorbing and storing water they also reduce flooding during heavy rainfall, and provide water for dry seasons, preventing the onset of droughts.
And healthy marine and coastal wetlands such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds shield coastal communities from storms and extreme weather events.
For example, in Senegal, actions underway to restore 45,000 hectares of mangroves will provide community protection from storms, up to 18,000 extra tons of fish each year and store 500,000 tons of CO2 over the next 20 years.
In addition, wetlands harbour rich biodiversity. 40% of the world’s species live or breed in wetlands. But more than a quarter of wetland species are threatened with extinction.
This is why Contracting Parties to the Convention are taking action to protect more than 2,400 Wetlands of international importance across the world and mobilizing investments for wetlands to achieve multiple benefits. For example, Canada has invested more than a billion dollars to disaster mitigation and adaptation projects which include wetlands restoration.
Despite the critical values and benefits of wetlands, we continue to lose them faster than any other ecosystem, with 35% of global wetlands lost in the last 50 years. It is more urgent than ever to scale up actions to conserve and restore wetlands.
We know how to do it.
We know that these actions have critical benefits for nature, and for the one billion people who depend directly on them.
As the international community develops the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and commits to stronger climate responses, it is critical to integrate in both agendas actions for wetlands – to deliver the greatest impact for nature, climate and people.
The importance of wetlands and the urgency to take action was recognized by the UN General Assembly last year, when it designated the 2 February as World Wetlands Day: a moment to raise awareness of wetlands’ importance for a sustainable and prosperous future.
World Wetlands Day is an opportunity to engage all stakeholders at all levels – to strengthen and multiply action for wetlands.
Whether by championing conservation, redirecting public and private funding streams, transforming agricultural practices, reducing water waste, contributing to restoration efforts or supporting local wetland clean ups, we can ALL take action.
A sustainable, prosperous future relies on actions we take today. As we come together to celebrate World Wetlands Day, I invite you all to value, manage, restore – and love wetlands. Because to inspire the level of wetlands action we need, we must ignite greater appreciation for our most valuable ecosystems.
HAPPY WORLD WETLANDS DAY!
ROO BAGS DIRECTOR