It’s never too early to talk about wetland restoration and protection. The importance of wetlands is often underestimated, even by experts. However, with the combination of carbon-dense ecosystems such as salt marshes, seagrass beds, and mangroves, wetlands are indeed supporting the livelihoods of so many people with a great source of farming materials as well as wild plants that can be used for a variety of purposes.
Not only that, although they only account for about 6-7% of the world’s land surface, in fact, wetlands are two times better than forests in storing carbon, which is crucial in fighting against climate change. They play a vital part in controlling the frequency and intensity of floods, protecting both wildlife habitats and economic prosperity.
Regardless of such an important role, wetlands are still being removed – mostly by humans – for short-sighted benefits. Martha Rojas Urrego – Secretary-General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has emphasized that the loss of services provided by wetlands is becoming more and more serious, and there will be no global commitments on sustainable development and biodiversity achieved if we don’t take care of wetlands.
The Real State Of Wetlands Around The World
According to the latest United Nations report, the world population has reached over 7.9 billion as of February 2022, which leads to an increase in the demand for residential land. However, humans have chosen very negative solutions to accommodate this need, which is to drain and alter wetlands. This is not a recent issue, but in fact, it has been going on for centuries, causing direct and indirect changes in the structure of flora and fauna, as well as the local climate, mostly in undesirable ways.
Recent reports from Ramsar have shown that global wetland area is continuously disappearing in all parts of the world – even at a three-time faster pace than forests. Within 45 years from 1970 to 2015, all the major wetland regions of the world such as Europe, Australia, New Zealand, etc. have lost more than 35% of their wetlands.
Several science surveys have also been carried out during the period 2017 – 2020 in order to evaluate the changes in the state of wetlands globally, and sadly the results were not really promising. Not much progress has been made in terms of addressing the wetland deterioration during this period, as this trend has been ongoing for 3 years straight (2018-2020) and is forecasted to continue into the future.
A surprising fact gathered from these surveys is that deterioration of Wetlands of International Importance, for example, those under global conventions, is actually more common than those of other regions. Michigan wetland – one of the major wetlands in the United States with an area of over 2 million hectares – has lost about 40% of its area to development purposes, which resulted in the loss of approximately 90% of its wildlife habitats. Wetlands in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean are also experiencing a similar trend, as demonstrated by the dramatic shrink of Lake Victoria and Lake Chad – two of the largest lakes in Africa – in recent years.
As you can see from the above examples, poor wetland management not only affects the habitats of many of the world’s species, pushing them to the brink of extinction, but also slows down the implementation of global commitments on climate change and sustainable development. However, it’s ironic that we’re destroying wetlands – one of the natural factors that help us survive – to do what we call “improving people’s lives”.
Wetland Restoration: A Lot Of Efforts Have Been Made Over The Years
Recognizing the irreplaceable role of wetlands, many environmental organizations around the world (both governmental and non-governmental) have been making specific moves towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals and Targets, especially in wetland restoration.
Most recently, in the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) together with 75 member states, the 2nd of February every year has been chosen as World Wetlands Day to commemorate the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands. With this event, the importance of wetlands, as well as wetland protection, is once again emphasized, partly creating the premise for wetland restoration and preservation activities in at least the next half a century.
As the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands hit its 50-year mark on February 2, 2021, the convention’s independent secretariat, along with contracting parties, have once again reinforced their goals in promoting conservation and wise use of wetlands. Wetlands Resolution XI.11 and XIII.16 about sustainable urbanization and urban management have been put into practice, and all are aimed at enhancing the awareness of the value of wetlands, as well as preventing activities that may adversely impact wetlands in general, and specifically urban/peri-urban wetlands.
The integration between wetland management plans and national plans on global environmental commitments has also been considered one of the top priorities in coping with wetland deterioration.
With the introduction of Resolution XII.10: Wetland City Accreditation of the Ramsar Convention, many countries – not just those that have acceded to the convention – have been encouraged and come up with groundbreaking initiatives in making urban areas liveable while highlighting the benefits of wetlands in maintaining urban living conditions. Some sustainable cities such as Sponge Cities in China, Jeju in Korea, Colombo in Sri Lanka, etc. are some of the most prominent examples of successful application of wetland conservation principles in urban development.
Challenges Are Waiting, But There Is Always Hope
With so much effort being made over the years, many examples of success in ecosystem and wetland restoration and preservation have been documented. However, the fact that wetland deterioration around the globe is still at an alarming rate is indeed a wake-up call, telling us that there is still a lot of work to be done.
The geological diversity of wetlands around the world is not the only factor that presents challenges to the current wetland restoration and preservation efforts. Due to human impacts, wetland landscapes have experienced a lot of negative changes: rivers and lakes are threatened by pollution and unsustainable use; thousands of streams have been moved or disrupted; forest loss; soil erosion upstream, etc., and these changes are predicted to continue for decades to come.
Besides, difficulty in accessing the information on wetland restoration/preservation plans as well as their criteria and outcomes is also hindering us from making accurate analyzes and actions. A lot of valuable information on wetlands of different types, along with specific restoration criteria and solutions have been identified and presented by wetland experts from around the world. However, these documents are mostly provided individually and without any uniformity, making approaching these sources a lot more difficult, leading to inefficiency in improving restoration based on field experience.
However, there are still bright spots that give us hope. By the end of 2021, Ramsar Convention has welcomed 17 new wetland sites to the Ramsar list, bringing the total protected wetland sites numbers to 2435 spreading over 254,685,425 hectares. Until now, this convention has developed into a major international one with 172 member countries.
Many international organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) or the World Wide Fund (WWF International) are also contributing a lot in terms of technical advice and financial support. These are great opportunities for the convention – as well as for humanity – to fully achieve the wetland restoration/preservation goals set.
At Tenere, we also partner with wetland restoration projects, and we can help you contribute to these plans. With the assistance of Tenere, you can save money on your shopping and plant trees to make wetlands green again.