Wetlands are diverse
They may be bodies of fresh inland water – marshes, fens, bogs, rivers, floodplains, ponds or swamps. Wetlands can be coastal – saltwater marshes, mangrove forests, estuaries, lagoons or coral reefs. And some are even man-made – carefully-crafted rice-paddies, well-tended fishponds, or productive saltpans.
Wetlands are critical for biodiversity
Wetlands are home to more than 100,000 known freshwater species alone, and this number is growing all the time. Wetlands are essential for many amphibians and reptiles, as well as for bird breeding and migration.
Wetlands are productive
Some wetlands grow our food – rice paddies provide the staple food for more than three billion of us. Almost all of the fish we eat spend at least part of their lives growing up in wetland ecosystems.
More than a billion people depend on wetlands for a living.
Wetlands buffer us from extremes
Peatlands and wet grasslands in river basins act as natural sponges, absorbing rainfall, creating wide surface pools and reducing floods in streams and rivers. This storage capacity also helps safeguard against drought.
Mangroves, saltmarshes and coral reefs all reduce the speed and height of storm surges. Their roots bind the shoreline, resist erosion by wind and waves, and increase resilience against climate change.
Wetlands are carbon sinks
Although they cover only 3% of the earth’s land surface, peatlands store 30% of the world’s carbon.
But wetlands are under pressure
Humans often equate wetlands with wasteland; places to be drained, filled in, burnt off and re-purposed. Studies show that 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900. Measured against 1700, an estimated 87% have been lost.
World Wetlands Day – A day to celebrate
2nd February each year is World Wetlands Day. On this date in 1971, countries from all over the world came together in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the Caspian Sea, to sign the Convention on Wetlands, vowing to protect and enhance the wetlands that fell within their borders.
Wetlands need our understanding, our appreciation and our protection. In protecting wetland areas, we are protecting our own livelihoods.
More detailed information on wetlands and the Ramsar Convention can be found at http://www.ramsar.org
Information on World Wetlands Day can be found http://www.worldwetlandsday.org