World Wetlands Day 2023: It’s time for restoration
Coinciding with the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands, adopted as an international treaty in 1971, World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on February 2. It aims to raise public awareness of these valuable water bodies, whose conservation and restoration is key to biodiversity, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and freshwater availability, as well as global economies.
It is precisely their restoration that is the focus of the 2023 theme, which underlines the urgent need to prioritize it in order to reverse the loss of wetlands. It follows on the heels of the 2022 call to action, which focused on stepping up action and investing in their conservation, management and restoration.
Why is it time for wetland restoration?
Wetlands are vital to humankind. They provide essential environmental, social and economic services to people. We can no longer delay their restoration, nor can we afford to allow their degradation to get worse.
Participate in the worldwide celebration of World Wetlands Day with the hashtags #WorldWetlandsDay #GenerationRestoration
On each of the previous celebrations of this landmark day in the environmental calendar, the Convention on Wetlands has highlighted why protecting wetlands is key to protecting the planet. In essence, they provide most of the available freshwater, help mitigate the impacts of climate change, provide livelihoods for a billion people, encourage ecotourism, and improve social well-being. In addition, well-maintained wetlands strengthen local food chains and revitalize biodiversity, as well as being large and extremely effective carbon sinks (especially peatlands, mangroves and tidal marshes).
However, all these benefits provided by wetlands will disappear if we do not act quickly. Today, wetlands are Earth’s most threatened ecosystem. Nearly 80% of wetlands have been degraded since the 18th century (35% have been lost since 1970) and the trend is increasing.
Wetlands are Earth’s most threatened ecosystem
We are largely responsible for their degradation. Human activities such as drainage for agriculture, grazing and urban development, as well as water pollution and overfishing, not only reduce their natural capacity to self-regulate, but also have a major impact on biodiversity. One in three freshwater species and 25% of all wetland species are at risk of extinction due to wetlands’ declining surface area, and 81% of inland wetland species and 36% of marine and coastal species have declined in the last fifty years.
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.
Valuing the multiple benefits of wetlands and managing them wisely and sustainably will prevent these ecosystems from disappearing. Whether inland, coastal or artificial, wetlands play an important role in protecting water, an increasingly scarce resource. But what can we do about it and who are the key players?
Actions for wetland restoration
Restoring a wetland involves recreating the original hydrological conditions and reintroducing native vegetation and fauna
Restoring a wetland involves recreating the original hydrological conditions and reintroducing native vegetation and fauna, but it also involves creating specific spaces for society to access and enjoy the wetland environment. The Ramsar Convention states that "fully recreating the benefits of a natural wetland can take time, but restoration can reverse many of the effects of degradation" and, to this end, proposes a series of best practices to consider.
Taking a holistic view of restoration is the most important of those best practices. Considering the multitude of services they provide for society and the benefits they bring, we need to take into account the entire ecosystem cycle (water, vegetation, wildlife, etc.) and, to this end, a specific restoration plan that assesses and addresses all the causes of degradation is essential. In this plan, the main players involved in wetland management should not only be concerned with its implementation, but also encourage the participation of the community, whether companies or civil society, to involve them in the maintenance of these spaces and raise their awareness of wetlands.
Wetland restoration requires dedication. The Ramsar Convention considers that, in an ideal situation, there are seven key players who must "plan and collaborate on the ground to achieve success" in the restoration of this water ecosystem. Highlighting one of the campaign hashtags, #GenerationRestoration, enthusiastic people who support this necessary action are called to action to bring their own arguments and actions and participate in local initiatives.
A specific restoration plan that assesses and addresses all the causes of wetland degradation is essential
The public sector (local, regional and national governments), the private sector (those whose economic activity depends on wetlands), funders and community leaders also have an important role to play. Not only is it important to establish plans and policies to manage wetlands, funding is needed and the voice of those who depend directly on wetlands must also be heard, so that they all have an active and coordinated role in the restoration process.
Finally, awareness of the importance of wetlands for society must be based on knowledge. Scientists and educators play a fundamental role in communicating their benefits, as well as helping to build capacities and providing advice to those responsible for their management.
The time for wetland restoration has come, so let’s take action.