- Date: 2 February Main Components: Wetlands, biodiversity, conservation, restoration
- Popularity: Celebrated in over 170 countries
- Pairings: Ramsar Convention, United Nations, World Wetlands Day theme 2023
- Variations: Wetland City Accreditation, Wetlands Youth Photo Contest, Wetland Grant
Every year on 2 February, the world celebrates World Wetlands Day (WWD) to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands for people and the planet. The date marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, also known as the Ramsar Convention, in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides a framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
Wetlands are ecosystems where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. They include freshwater and marine and coastal ecosystems such as lakes, rivers, marshes, swamps, peatlands, estuaries, deltas, mangroves, coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, and reservoirs. Wetlands are often referred to as “water life” or “mother nature” because of their vital role in sustaining life on Earth.
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Wetlands provide a range of benefits and services for human well-being and biodiversity, such as water regulation, water purification, flood control, climate change mitigation, erosion control, fish and wildlife habitat, food security, recreation, tourism, and cultural heritage. However, wetlands are also among the most threatened ecosystems in the world due to human activities such as drainage, infilling, pollution, overexploitation, invasive species, and climate change. According to the Ramsar Convention, more than 35% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1970, and wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests.
To address this alarming situation, the Ramsar Convention has designated more than 2,400 wetland sites of international importance (Ramsar Sites) covering over 2.5 million square kilometers in 171 countries. These sites are recognized as being of significant value not only for the country or countries in which they are located but for humanity as a whole. The Ramsar Convention also provides guidance and support to its Contracting Parties and other stakeholders on how to conserve and restore wetlands and their functions.
The theme for World Wetlands Day 2023 is “Wetlands Action for People and Nature”, focusing on how to invest our human resources into ensuring that the world’s wetlands are protected from further loss and restored where they are currently degraded. This theme is aligned with the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), which aims to massively scale up the restoration of degraded or destroyed ecosystems as a means to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address the global challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, water scarcity, and poverty.
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is also known as the Convention on Wetlands or simply the Ramsar Convention. It was signed in Ramsar, Iran on 2 February 1971 by representatives from 18 countries. It entered into force on 21 December 1975 after ratification by seven countries. As of January 2023, there are 171 Contracting Parties to the Convention.
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The mission of the Ramsar Convention is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”. The Convention defines wise use as “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”.
The main pillars of the Convention are:
- The designation of wetlands of international importance (Ramsar Sites) based on criteria for identifying wetlands that are representative, rare or unique or that have significant biodiversity value.
- The promotion of wise use of all wetlands within each Contracting Party’s territory through national policies, legislation, planning, management, education, and public awareness.
- The cooperation among Contracting Parties and with other international organizations on transboundary wetland issues, such as shared river basins, coastal zones, and migratory species.
The role of the Ramsar Secretariat is to provide administrative support to the Convention’s governing bodies, such as the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP), the Standing Committee, and the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP). The Secretariat also facilitates the implementation of the Convention by providing technical assistance, guidance, information, and communication to the Contracting Parties and other stakeholders. The Secretariat is hosted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Gland, Switzerland.
Importance of Wetlands
Wetlands are among the most productive and diverse ecosystems in the world, comparable to rainforests and coral reefs. They support a rich variety of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals that are uniquely adapted to aquatic environments. Wetlands also play a key role in global cycles of water, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. Wetlands provide a range of benefits and services for human well-being and biodiversity, such as:
- Biodiversity and ecosystems: Wetlands are hotspots of biodiversity, hosting 40% of all plant and animal species and 12% of all animal species threatened with extinction. Wetlands also support many ecosystem processes, such as nutrient cycling, primary production, decomposition, and food web dynamics. Wetlands are essential for the conservation of many migratory species, such as waterbirds, fish, and marine mammals, that depend on wetlands for breeding, feeding, resting, or wintering. Wetlands also provide habitat for many endemic and rare species that are found nowhere else in the world.
- Water supply and downstream communities: Wetlands act as natural reservoirs that store and regulate water flows in rivers, lakes, and aquifers. Wetlands provide water for domestic, agricultural, industrial, and recreational uses. Wetlands also purify water by filtering sediments, nutrients, pollutants, and pathogens. Wetlands contribute to the health and livelihoods of downstream communities that rely on wetland resources for drinking water, irrigation, fishing, livestock grazing, and other activities.
- Climate change mitigation: Wetlands are natural carbon sinks that sequester and store large amounts of carbon in their biomass and soils. Peatlands alone store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined. Wetlands also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by preventing the oxidation of organic matter and by enhancing methane oxidation. Wetlands can also help to adapt to the impacts of climate change by buffering against extreme events such as floods, droughts, storms, and sea-level rise.
- Protection of “Waterfowl Habitat”: Wetlands are vital for the conservation of waterfowl, which are birds that depend on wetland habitats for feeding, breeding, or migrating. Waterfowl include ducks, geese, swans, cranes, flamingos, pelicans, herons, storks, ibises, spoonbills, and many others. Waterfowl are important indicators of wetland health and provide many ecological services such as seed dispersal, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, and food provision for other wildlife and humans. Waterfowl also have cultural values as symbols of beauty, grace, freedom, and spirituality.
Human Impact and Conservation
Human activities have a negative impact on wetlands. Some major human impacts include:
- Changing water quality, quantity, and flow rates: Human activities such as agriculture, industry, urbanization, hydropower, and mining can alter the hydrological regime of wetlands by diverting, extracting, or discharging water. This can affect the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of wetlands and reduce their functions and values.
- Increasing pollutant inputs: Human activities can introduce various pollutants into wetlands such as nutrients, pesticides, heavy metals, organic compounds, microplastics, and pathogens. These pollutants can degrade water quality, affect wetland biota, and pose risks to human health.
- Changing species composition as a result of disturbance and the introduction of non-native species: Human activities can disturb wetland habitats by clearing vegetation, draining soils, burning peatlands, or altering fire regimes. This can lead to the loss or decline of native species and the invasion or proliferation of non-native species that can outcompete or predate on native species.
- Destruction or conversion of wetland habitats: Human activities can destroy or convert wetland habitats into other land uses such as agriculture, forestry, infrastructure, or urban development. This can result in the loss or fragmentation of wetland ecosystems and their functions.
To address these threats and challenges, human actions are needed to conserve and restore wetlands. Some key actions include:
- Role of governments and communities: Governments and communities have a crucial role in developing and implementing policies, legislation, plans, strategies, and actions for wetland conservation and wise use at local, national, regional, and global levels. Governments and communities can also designate wetlands as protected areas or Ramsar Sites to ensure their long-term conservation. Governments and communities can also participate in international cooperation on transboundary wetland issues through bilateral or multilateral agreements or initiatives.
- Sustainable approaches: Sustainable approaches aim to balance the conservation of wetland ecosystems and their functions with the social and economic needs and aspirations of people who depend on or benefit from wetlands. Sustainable approaches include the application of the ecosystem approach, the precautionary principle, the adaptive management principle, and the valuation of wetland services. Sustainable approaches also involve the participation and empowerment of wetland stakeholders, such as indigenous peoples, local communities, women, youth, and marginalized groups, in wetland decision-making and management.
- Disaster Risk Reduction and “Downstream” areas: Wetlands can help to reduce the risk and impact of natural disasters such as floods, droughts, landslides, storms, and tsunamis by providing natural buffers, stabilizing soils, storing water, and moderating flows. Wetlands can also enhance the resilience and recovery of people and ecosystems affected by disasters by providing livelihoods, food, water, shelter, and other resources. Wetlands can also benefit “downstream” areas that are influenced by wetland hydrology and ecology by providing water supply, flood control, sediment retention, nutrient removal, and biodiversity support.
- “Upstream” conservation: Wetlands are often dependent on the hydrological and ecological conditions of their “upstream” catchments or watersheds. Therefore, it is important to conserve and restore the natural vegetation cover, soil health, water quality, and water quantity of the upstream areas that influence wetland functioning. This can be done by implementing integrated water resources management (IWRM), promoting sustainable land use practices, preventing deforestation and degradation, restoring degraded lands, and enhancing connectivity among habitats.
Wetland Restoration and “Wetlands Action”
Wetland restoration is the process of returning degraded or destroyed wetlands to a condition as close as possible to their natural state before disturbance. Wetland restoration can involve physical interventions such as re-establishing hydrological regimes, removing invasive species, replanting native vegetation, or creating artificial wetlands. Wetland restoration can also involve social interventions such as improving governance, enhancing awareness, building capacity, securing tenure rights, or providing incentives.
Wetland restoration can have multiple benefits for people and nature such as:
- Improving wetland functions and services: Wetland restoration can enhance the capacity of wetlands to provide water regulation, water purification, flood control, climate change mitigation, erosion control, fish and wildlife habitat, food security, recreation, tourism, and cultural heritage.
- Increasing wetland biodiversity: Wetland restoration can increase the diversity and abundance of wetland species by creating or improving habitat conditions, reintroducing or translocating species, or reducing threats such as overexploitation, pollution, or predation.
- Supporting human well-being: Wetland restoration can improve human well-being by providing livelihood opportunities, income generation, health benefits, education opportunities, social cohesion, and empowerment for wetland-dependent communities.
Wetlands Action is a global initiative launched by the Ramsar Convention in 2021 to mobilize resources and actions for wetland restoration in support of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Wetlands Action aims to:
- Restore 100 million hectares of degraded or destroyed wetlands by 2030
- Prevent further loss or degradation of 100 million hectares of wetlands by 2030
- Enhance the conservation status of 100 million hectares of wetlands by 2030
Wetlands Action invites all stakeholders to join the movement and take action for wetlands at different levels:
- Programs and projects: Wetlands Action supports the implementation of programs and projects that contribute to wetland restoration at local, national, regional, or global scales. These programs and projects can be funded by various sources such as public funds, private funds, donors, partnerships, or crowdfunding. Wetlands Action also provides technical guidance, best practices, tools, and resources for wetland restoration practitioners.
- Community clean-up days: Wetlands Action encourages communities to organize clean-up days to remove litter, debris, and pollutants from wetlands. These clean-up days can be held on any day of the year but especially on World Wetlands Day (2 February) or World Cleanup Day (18 September). These clean-up days can also involve other activities such as planting trees, removing invasive species, or monitoring wetland health.
- Environmental enthusiasts and ecologists: Wetlands Action invites environmental enthusiasts and ecologists to share their passion and knowledge about wetlands with others through various platforms such as blogs, podcasts, videos, social media, or online courses. These platforms can help to raise awareness, educate, inspire, and engage people on wetland issues and solutions.
- Wetlands Youth Photo Contest: Wetlands Action organizes an annual photo contest for young people aged 15 to 24 years old to showcase their creativity and vision on wetlands. The contest has different categories such as “Wetlands for Life”, “Wetlands for Nature”, “Wetlands for Climate”, and “Wetlands for People”. The contest also has different prizes such as cash awards, certificates, publications, or exposure.
Celebrations and Outreach
World Wetlands Day is an opportunity to celebrate the beauty and diversity of wetlands and to raise awareness about their importance and threats. World Wetlands Day is also an opportunity to promote wetland conservation and restoration actions and to showcase the achievements and challenges of wetland stakeholders. World Wetlands Day is celebrated in over 170 countries with various activities and events such as:
- Activities and events: Wetland stakeholders organize various activities and events to mark World Wetlands Day such as art contests, lectures, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, field trips, guided tours, birdwatching, games, quizzes, or sampan races. These activities and events can target different audiences such as students, teachers, policy makers, media, businesses, or the general public. These activities and events can also highlight the theme of World Wetlands Day or the specific wetland issues or solutions relevant to the local context.
- Materials for awareness: Wetland stakeholders produce and distribute various materials for awareness such as posters, handouts, brochures, stickers, calendars, or guide documents. These materials provide information and messages about wetlands such as their definition, types, functions, values, threats, or actions. These materials can also feature the logo and slogan of World Wetlands Day or the theme of the year. These materials can be disseminated through various channels such as schools, offices, libraries, museums, or online platforms.
- Reports and reporting: Wetland stakeholders report and document their activities and events for World Wetlands Day such as their objectives, outcomes, impacts, challenges, or lessons learned. These reports can be submitted to the Ramsar Secretariat or other relevant organizations for compilation, analysis, or dissemination. These reports can also be shared with other wetland stakeholders or the media for learning, exchange, or recognition.
- Television interviews and radio: Wetland stakeholders participate in television interviews and radio programs to share their views and experiences on wetlands such as their importance, threats, or actions. These interviews and programs can reach a wide audience and influence public opinion and behavior on wetland issues. These interviews and programs can also feature the theme of World Wetlands Day or the specific wetland stories or examples relevant to the local context.
World Wetlands Day also receives global support and partnerships from various organizations such as:
- The Ramsar Convention: The Ramsar Convention is the lead organization for World Wetlands Day. It provides the overall coordination, guidance, communication, and recognition for World Wetlands Day. It also develops the theme, logo, slogan, and materials for World Wetlands Day every year.
- The United Nations: The United Nations supports World Wetlands Day through its agencies, programs, funds, or initiatives that are related to wetlands such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), or the Global Environment Facility (GEF). These entities provide technical, financial, or policy support for wetland conservation and restoration actions or projects.
- Other international organizations: Other international organizations support World Wetlands Day through their networks, platforms, or initiatives that are related to wetlands such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the International Crane Foundation (ICF), or Wetlands International. These organizations provide scientific, advocacy, or operational support for wetland conservation and restoration actions or projects.
Wetlands are vital ecosystems that sustain life on Earth. They provide a range of benefits and services for people and nature such as water regulation, water purification, flood control, climate change mitigation, erosion control, fish and wildlife habitat, food security, recreation, tourism, and cultural heritage. However, wetlands are also among the most threatened ecosystems in the world due to human activities such as drainage, infilling, pollution, overexploitation, invasive species, and climate change.
What is the theme of World Wetlands Day 2023?
The theme of World Wetlands Day 2023 is “Wetlands Action for People and Nature”, focusing on how to invest our human resources into ensuring that the world’s wetlands are protected from further loss and restored where they are currently degraded.
How can I participate in World Wetlands Day?
You can participate in World Wetlands Day by organizing or joining activities and events that celebrate and raise awareness about wetlands, such as art contests, lectures, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, field trips, guided tours, birdwatching, games, quizzes, or sampan races. You can also produce and distribute materials for awareness such as posters, handouts, brochures, stickers, calendars, or guide documents. You can also report and document your activities and events for World Wetlands Day and share them with the Ramsar Secretariat or other relevant organizations. You can also participate in television interviews and radio programs to share your views and experiences on wetlands.
What are Ramsar Sites?
Ramsar Sites are wetland sites of international importance designated by the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention based on criteria for identifying wetlands that are representative, rare or unique or that have significant biodiversity value. There are more than 2,400 Ramsar Sites covering over 2.5 million square kilometers in 171 countries.
What is Wetlands Action?
Wetlands Action is a global initiative launched by the Ramsar Convention in 2021 to mobilize resources and actions for wetland restoration in support of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Wetlands Action aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded or destroyed wetlands by 2030, prevent further loss or degradation of 100 million hectares of wetlands by 2030, and enhance the conservation status of 100 million hectares of wetlands by 2030.
What is Wetland Tourism?
Wetland Tourism is a form of tourism that involves visiting or staying in wetland areas for recreational, educational, or cultural purposes. Wetland Tourism can provide benefits such as raising awareness, generating income, and supporting conservation and restoration of wetlands. However, Wetland Tourism can also pose risks such as disturbing wildlife, degrading habitats, or exploiting resources. Therefore, Wetland Tourism should be ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable and respect the rights and interests of wetland stakeholders.