Each year on 2nd February, people around the world celebrate World Wetlands Day, to mark the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) in Ramsar, Iran, on 2 February 1971. It is a day to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands and the biodiversity they support. This year, the theme is “Wetlands and Biodiversity”.
Healthy wetlands provide ecosystem services, such as water purification, water storage, carbon storage, flood protection and shoreline stabilization. These ecosystem services contribute to a range of benefits to the lives of human and wildlife. For wildlife, approximately 40% of the plant and animal species of the world live or breed in wetlands.
Each year millions of waterbirds migrate hundreds of miles from their northern breeding grounds to southern wintering grounds, and then return north for the next summer. Their survival is highly-dependent on wetlands during this migration. The East Asian-Australasian Flyway is one of the 9 flyways in the world, stretches across 22 countries from Alaska in the U.S. and eastern Russia to Australia and New Zealand. The flyway supports about 50 million of over 200 migratory waterbird species. Waterbirds in wetlands are an indicator of the wetland’s health.
However, the chains of wetlands that are interlinked by the migratory waterbirds appear to be broken as wetlands are being destroyed or degraded. According to the Ramsar Convention, 35% of wetlands worldwide have disappeared since the 1970s, and 87% have been lost since the 1700s. Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. Wetlands were lost due to reclamation for agriculture and development, pollution, over-exploitation of natural resources (e.g. overfishing), invasive species and climate change.
Loss of wetlands does not only affect wildlife but also to the local communities that live around them. Over 50 % of the world’s population live within 3km of a wetland. Wetlands provide food and support livelihoods for one billion people globally. In fact, human civilization has been linked to wetlands and giving historical, cultural and economic values for wetlands. If we measure the values of wetlands in monetary term, all inland and coastal wetlands contribute to Int$47.4 trillion per year, which is 43.5% of the value of all natural biomes , keeping in mind that inland and coastal wetlands only take up less than 4% of the Earth’s biome areas.
Due to the depletion of the wetlands, we are losing the biodiversity and the services that we are relying on. Collaboration is needed to reverse the situation. The East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership, with its 37 partners, are working together to conserve the migratory waterbirds and the wetlands they depend on. The EAAFP 10-years Strategic Plan was adopted in 2018 to further promote and enhance the efficiency of conservation actions at flyway-, national- and local level.
Country Partners can also designate important wetlands for migratory waterbirds as Flyway Network Site under EAAFP. Awareness-raising activities, education and improved management implemented at each site can ensure the site is sustainably managed. Today, the EAAFP welcomed a new Flyway Network Site, Inlay Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, designated by the government of Myanmar (read more about the news).
Every single piece of wetland is precious, and there are many things one can do to promote the conservation of wetlands. Today is World Wetlands Day, you can:
- Organize or join an event to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands biodiversity and share with us about what you did.
- Learn about the wetlands and biodiversity, and help to spread the message to protect them.
Happy World Wetlands Day!
- World Wetlands Day materials: https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/materials
- Davidson, N. C., Van Dam, A. A., Finlayson, C. M., & McInnes, R. J. (2019). Worth of wetlands: revised global monetary values of coastal and inland wetland ecosystem services. Marine and Freshwater Research, 70(8), 1189-1194. DOI: 1071/MF18391