World Wetland Day on February 2,2023
Tuesday January 31, 2023
The Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year. Wetland environments play a major part in the water cycle and possess a unique mixture of environmental conditions, flora and fauna. Wetlands have provided vital services to humanity for thousands of years and include a variety of ecosystems such as lagoons, marshes, rivers and their deltas, lakes, streams, peat bogs, water meadows, swamps, oases, mangrove forests, coral reefs and human-made lakes, dams and Salinas, shrimp and fish ponds, irrigated land and others.
In a more detailed sense, according to the Ramsar Convention for the Protection of Wetlands (Articles 1.1 and 2.1) wetlands are defined as:
“areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres […..] and may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands”.
The Ramsar Classification of wetland types includes 42 types which can be broadly divided into:
Marine and coastal wetlands
This classification simplifies the characterization of wetlands by dividing it based on geographic location and human parameters, but one must consider that overlaps occur since the categories are not always mutually exclusive.
A more in depth classification divides wetlands into five major categories:
marine wetlands (coastal wetlands including coastal lagoons, rocky shores, and coral reefs);
estuarine wetlands (including deltas, tidal marshes, and mangrove swamps);
lacustrine wetlands (wetlands associated with lakes);
riverine wetlands (wetlands related to rivers and streams); and
palustrine wetlands (meaning “marshy” – marshes, swamps and bogs).
The common denominator in all wetland types is the continuous or seasonal presence of water which creates a characteristic wetland soil – the hydric soil – and favours the growth of specially adapted plants. These conditions support high biodiversity in terms of amphibians and reptiles that need both wet and dry areas to breed and resident and migratory birds that use wetlands as a breeding and resting place.
Wetlands can be found all over the world, in all climatic conditions from the tundra to the tropics. The UNEP- World Conservation Monitoring centre has suggested that roughly 6% of the Earth’s land surface is made up of wetlands, 2% of which are lakes, 30% bogs, 26% fens, 20% swamps and 15% floodplains. However, these figures may not represent the true extent as they are based on estimates; other studies have found a higher percentage of wetland cover on Earth).The various functions of wetlands, presented in the previous section, give them unique importance for both the plant and animal kingdom but also for mankind. Wetlands are important for the people who live around them but also for the global freshwater supply. Our overuse of finite freshwater resources (which constitute 2.5% of the total water volume of our planet) and our projected future increased use paint a bleak picture for wetlands, but also for humans.
Water shortage has already started in many parts of the world and according to FAO by 2025 two-thirds of the world population could be under water stress conditions. Lack of freshwater and increased population growth present a real threat to humanity, however the solution to this problem can’t be found in a single response. Considering that wetlands store and purify water and replenish underground water sources, their conservation is vital for our future.
Wetlands are also important as part of the cultural heritage of humanity. Their ecological functions have overshadowed this aspect of their importance but it is now increasingly getting more attention. Wetlands are inextricably linked with the cultural heritage of humanity and are a cradle for local knowledge and tradition, religious beliefs and aesthetic values. Effectively, the conservation of wetlands contributes to the conservation of human tradition.