News and ResourcesWorld Wetlands Day - January 29, 2017
Most Americans know February 2nd as Groundhog Day, but for some, it is a day to celebrate and raise awareness of the value of wetlands. World Wetlands Day marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. It is a day to raise global awareness about the value and benefits of wetlands for both humanity and the planet.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, more commonly known as the Ramsar Convention, is a treaty between nations and non-governmental organizations for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. The Convention is named after the city of Ramsar, Iran, where the Convention was originally signed on February 2, 1971. There are currently 169 contracting parties to the Convention, and more than 2,252 designated wetland sites throughout the world that have been added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. These designated wetlands sites cover an area of over 830,000 square miles. That’s an area about the size of Greenland!
The Convention defines wetlands so that “all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans” are included. Wetlands can become designated sites, known as Ramsar sites, due to their ecological, zoological, limnological, botanical, or hydrological importance. To become designated, a wetland must satisfy one or more of nine criteria, such as supporting vulnerable or endangered species, or supporting a species at a critical life stage. After designation, the site is managed to ensure the ecological character of the wetland is maintained and that they retain their essential functions and value.
This year’s theme for World Wetlands Day is Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction. Wetlands play a vital role in reducing the impact extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts, have on communities and ecosystems. Estuaries and wetlands act as a “buffer zone”. They absorb flood waters and protect against storm surges by acting as sponges and absorbing excess water. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, wetlands helped prevent more than $625 million in damages in the United States. During periods of drought, they release the stored water, lessening the effects of the drought. Wetlands and estuarine plants stabilize shorelines, which helps prevent erosion caused by waves, wind, and ice. Additionally, these wetlands sequester or store large amounts of carbon in their soils. Carbon sequestration is beneficial as it helps mitigate the effects of climate change.
The services that wetlands provide for disaster risk reduction are now more important than ever. The frequency at which we are experiencing natural hazards and disasters has more than doubled in just 35 years. According to the UN-Water, about 90% of all natural hazards are water-related. As a result of climate change, the frequency of extreme storm events is expected to further increase.
While wetlands are vital for combating the effects of climate change, we are losing them at an alarming rate. In the last 200 years, we have lost more than half of the nation’s original coastal wetlands. Globally, we have lost at least 64% of the world’s wetlands since 1900. While some of this is due to erosion, which is its own issue, a large portion of this land loss is due to development. In the past, estuaries and wetlands were drained and filled in to create more land for agriculture and development. Nowadays, wetlands are being paved over to accommodate for large coastal populations.
To celebrate wetlands and World Wetlands Day, Maryland Coastal Bays Program has created lesson plans focused on wetlands and the coastal bays. Plans are available for Pre-K through 12 students and align with the Next Generation Science Standards. Have your students or children become wetland artists and scientists for a day! Lessons are available on the Maryland Coastal Bays Program website, www.mdcoastalbays.org.
Phillips is the Program Manager for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.
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