Submitted by guest blogger on Mon, 02/02/2015

By Dr Christopher Briggs, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

World Wetlands Day, 2 February, celebrated around the world, came out of a desire to help more people learn about these incredible ecosystems and how we can help protect them. Led by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, that now includes 168 contracting parties, the overarching goal of World Wetlands Day is awareness and education, helping people to understand what constitutes a wetland and their vital role in our lives.

Most importantly, wetlands are the source of our daily water. They are also home to over 100,000 freshwater species and essential to bird life, breeding and migration.

 IUCN Bangladesh

Fishing season in the Tanguar Haor wetlands of Bangladesh. Photo: IUCN Bangladesh

Wetlands play other crucial roles too:

Wetlands feed humanity: rice, grown in wetland paddies, is the staple diet of nearly three billion people. The average human consumes 19 kilogrammes of fish each year. And most of the fish sold breed and raise their young in coastal waters and estuaries. Moreover, 70% of all fresh water extracted globally is used for crop irrigation.

Wetlands purify and filter harmful waste from water, helping to absorb harmful fertilizers and pesticides, as well as heavy metals and toxins from industry. As an example, the Nakivubo Swamp in Kampala, Uganda, filters sewage and industrial effluents for free; a treatment plant to do the same job would cost US$ 2 million per year.

Wetlands act as nature’s shock absorbers: peatlands and wet grasslands in river basins act as natural sponges, absorbing rainfall, creating wide surface pools that ease any flooding in rivers. The same storage capacity will also safeguard against the impact of drought.

Wetlands provide sustainable livelihoods and products: 61.8 million people depend directly on fishing and fisheries for a living. Timber for building, vegetable oil, medicinal plants, animal fodder, and stems and leaves for weaving also comes from managed wetlands.

And importantly for our future, wetlands help to fight climate change: peatlands alone store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined, and in the face of rising sea levels, coastal wetlands reduce the impact of hurricanes and tsunamis. They also bind the shoreline and resist erosion.

Latest figures show that 64% of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed since 1900 and research by WWF’s Living Planet Index found that populations of freshwater species have declined by 76% in the last 40 years alone, which is worse than any other ecosystem.

So what can we do as individuals to help reverse that trend? This year, for World Wetlands Day, we are inviting people to make a pledge for wetlands, committing themselves to making small changes that can help to slow the destruction and reverse the downwards trend. By pledging to take shorter showers, or using reusable shopping bags, for example, everyone can make a difference. Visit our website or use the hashtag #WetlandsForOurFuture to learn more and to make your contribution to our campaign.

We need to educate others about the vital role wetlands play in our lives. As David Attenborough put it, “no one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” So we want to encourage everyone to go out and visit a local wetland. With this in mind, we are running a photo competition for 15-24 year-olds (full information on our website), to try to inspire the next generation to learn more about these amazing ecosystems and join the fight to secure wetlands for all of our futures.

Happy World Wetlands Day!