Do wetlands contribute to our well-being? The answer is a definite “yes” and yet they are often seen as wastelands.
The wise use of wetlands, that is, maintaining their ecological character, is needed because wetlands perform two important functions in relation to climate change: Firstly, they have mitigation effects through their ability to sink carbon and, secondly, they have adaptation effects through their ability to store and regulate water. Despite their utility, they are often under threat from development, drainage and conversion.
Each year on 2 February, World Wetlands Day is celebrated. This date has been chosen as it marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. On this day governments, local communities and concerned citizens have the opportunity to undertake actions aimed at raising public awareness of wetland values and benefits.
The theme for this year is Wetlands and Tourism.
The emphasis this year will be on:
- How can tourists contribute to local economies, conservation goals, education and raise awareness about the benefits of wetlands?
- How can recreation encourage conservation?
- How can local NGOs partner with wetlands managers for best practices to maintain or increase biodiversity and ecosystem health?
- How many ways can wetlands managers and tourism planners integrate sustainable tourism and recreation into well-managed wetlands?
What is a wetland?
This is an area of land where the soil is saturated with moisture, permanently or seasonally, for example as swamps, marshes, bogs and vlei’s The water in a wetland can be fresh, salt or brackish.
Wetlands are considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. Plants in wetlands include mangrove, water lilies, cattails, sedges, tamarack, black spruce, cypress, gum etc. and animal species include amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects and mammals in huge varieties.
At Ramsar an intergovernmental treaty was signed to establish a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The mission has been formulated as “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”. This means the “maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”. Central to this maintenance is the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources, for the benefit of man.
Given the importance of wetlands in our lives and our climate, it is imperative that we do all in our power to preserve our wetlands. There are over 120,000 wetlands in South Africa, ranging greatly in size and value and accounting for about 7% of our land surface.
The Working for Wetlands programme in our country is implemented by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) on behalf of the departments of Environmental Affairs (DEA); Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Water Affairs (DWA). It is part of the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme. Since 2000 it has been encouraging the protection, rehabilitation and sustainable use of South African wetlands through co-operative governance and partnerships, while also creating jobs.
For example, in 2009, the programme managed to rehabilitate 95 wetlands in all nine provinces and in the process created employment for more than 1500 people and made use of 250 small businesses.
If you would like to know more about the efforts in our country, visit the Working for Wetlands Website at http://wetlands.sanbi.org/wfwet/index.php.
Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day if you want to know more about the link between the health and well-being of people and the state of the environment. Call us on the EWP number or email us at
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