World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on February 2nd to commemorate the Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. In 2020, the celebration focuses on biodiversity, the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part.
The importance of wetlands
Wetlands provide water, protect from floods, droughts and other disasters, provide food and livelihoods to millions of people, support a rich biodiversity and store more carbon than any other ecosystem.
Whether they are inland, coastal or human-made wetlands, not only are they very important habitats for biodiversity, but also, they are rich in biodiversity: 40% of the world’s plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands, whereas over 100,000 freshwater species can be found in wetlands.
In addition, wetland biodiversity is important for life to thrive, due to several reasons:
- Swamp vegetation filters pollutants, improving water quality.
- Wetlands provide livelihoods for one billion people.
- The rice grown in wetland rice paddies is the basic diet of almost 3 billion people, whereas most commercial fish depend on coastal wetlands during a part of their life cycle.
- Peatlands store 30% of land-based carbon. Peatlands, mangroves, seagrass meadows and salt marshes store carbon and matter for climate action.
- Mangroves and coral reefs protect coastal communities during storm surges, hurricanes and tsunamis, reducing the risk of disasters.
- Wetlands provide ecosystem services worth USD $47 trillion annually, more than those from forests, deserts or grasslands
However, drainage and infilling for agriculture and construction, pollution, overexploitation of resources, invasive species and climate change have caused the loss of 35% of the world's wetlands since the 1970s.
Moreover, for the most part politicians and decision makers still do not recognise the value of these ecosystems, something that has devastating consequences for wetland biodiversity, which is experiencing a steep decline; as a consequence, the number of species is decreasing faster than at any point in history.
- Since 1970, the decline has affected 81% of inland wetland species populations and 36% of coastal and marine species populations.
- Between 1970 and 2014, populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles declined by 60%.
- One million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, and wetland species are experiencing the sharpest decline.
- 25% of wetland species are threatened with extinction, including water birds, freshwater-dependent mammals, marine turtles, and coral-reef-building species.
According to the Ramsar Convention, wetland loss continues, with direct and measurable negative impacts on water quality and availability, food security, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration.
Wetlands in the world
170 countries are part of the Ramsar Convention, and have committed to preserving the ecological nature of more than 2,000 Wetlands of International Importance, covering a surface of more than 250 million hectares, which amounts to between 13 and 18% of the world's wetlands.
Specifically, according to the List of Wetlands of International Importance published on October 19th, 2019, the 170 countries have designated a total of 2,372 wetlands with a total surface of 253,603,511 hectares. Out of them, the countries with a larger number of Designated Wetlands are the United Kingdom (175), Mexico (142) and Spain (75). In terms of the surface area covered, the countries with a larger wetland surface are Russia (140,323,767 ha), Brazil (26,794,454 ha) and Bolivia (14,842,405 ha).
Find out about the world's ten largest wetlands.