Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods
What are wetlands? The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, also known as the Ramsar Convention, defines wetlands as including: lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.
Wetlands are important for many reasons. They provide important habitat for diverse communities of plants and animals, including threatened or endangered species. Wetlands provide habitat for feeding and resting areas for migratory birds migrating. Wetlands also direct spawning and rearing habitats and food supply that supports both freshwater and marine fisheries.
Wetland habitats play key roles in maintaining both a healthy ecosystem and economically vibrant region. Besides providing fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands also improve water quality, protect lands from flooding, provide energy to the estuarine food web, help stabilize shorelines against erosion, and increase groundwater availability. Wetlands also support extensive outdoor recreation.
Wetlands can serve as natural remediation sites by enhancing water quality. Many human and household wastes, toxic compounds, and chemicals such as fertilizers are tied to sediments that can be trapped in wetlands. Plants and biological process in wetlands break down the convert these pollutants into less harmful substances.
Wetlands aid in water filtration by removing excess nutrients, slowing the water allowing particulates to settle out of the water which can then be absorbed into plant roots. Studies have shown that up to 92% of phosphorus and 95% of nitrogen can be removed from passing water through a wetland. Wetlands also let pollutants settle and stick to soil particles, up to 70% of sediments in runoff.
Wetlands can even filter out and absorb harmful bacteria from the water. Their complex food chain hosts various microbes and bacteria, which invertebrates feed on. These invertebrates can filter up to 90% of bacteria out of the water this way.
Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods is the theme for World Wetlands Day in 2016. This theme is selected to demonstrate the vital role of wetlands for the future of humanity and specifically their relevance towards achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals.
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2 February. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat provides outreach materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.