Wetlands cover about 3% of the land mass in total but they degrade by 1% per year which is faster than deforestation. The degradation is both caused by climate change and human actions, such as burning or draining the ecosystems. Furthermore, they are threatened by rising sea levels, as a big amount of wetlands is located in coastal areas. In the last 45 years, wetlands shrank by a third. If you look further back into the past, you see that 87% of the wetlands have disappeared since after the preindustrial time. This degradation is accountable for a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions as wetlands store a crucial amount of land-based carbon. If peatlands catch fire, much more carbon dioxide gets released into the atmosphere than during casual forest fires because in peatlands the burning soil contains organic material of thousands of years.
Because of these dangers that wetlands and the whole world faces, a group of environmental activists gathered in Ramsar, Iran in 1971 to collaborate in conserving these valuable ecosystems. At this convention they signed a contract on February 2, the day to celebrate the World Wetlands Day (WWD). Every three years, the contracting parties come together for a conference. In 2015, it took place in Uruguay and the last time they met in Dubai in 2018.
The Ramsar Convention compiled a list of wetlands with international importance that covers an area of over 2.1 million km² in total. The UK has the highest number of wetlands (175) and Bolivia has the biggest area with about 150.000km². The convention works closely together with six different organizations like Birdlife International, Wetlands International and WWF International. The first WWD was celebrated in 1997, exactly 26 years after the Ramsar Convention.
There are a lot of reasons for the Ramsar Convention and for everyone to protect wetlands. They are important for the climate, as they store about 30% of all land-based carbon, but also important for the local people. Wetlands purify water, they prevent floods and they protect people from tsunamis in coastal areas. These days, over 1 billion people make their living from wetlands, with fishing or collecting honey among others. Last but not least, 40% of all of the world’s species live or breed in wetlands which is the reason for the topic of the WWD in 2020: “Wetlands and Biodiversity.”
By Paul Paessler