The Bureau's Press Release on World Wetlands Day

The following file is a copy of the press release issued by the Ramsar Bureau on 24 January, announcing World Wetlands Day on 2 February 1997 and describing its significance.


WORLD WETLANDS DAY

Gland, Switzerland, 24 January 1997. -- After having been depicted for centuries as places full of slimy creatures, harbouring diseases and exhaling pestilence, wetlands are now attaining such a positive reputation that they have got their own day in the calendar to celebrate their existence: 2 February. On that day, in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar, a handful of countries signed an international treaty, the Convention on Wetlands, with the purpose of promoting the conservation and sustainable use of these habitats. Today, 96 countries have signed the treaty and many others are poised to join soon. Our country joined in ……[Note to journalists: a list of Contracting Parties and the year of accession to the Convention is attached.]

After having transformed, or at best considerably degraded in some cases up to 80% of their wetlands, especially in Europe and North America, the majority of countries have now passed legislation protecting them. In several cases significant amounts of money are being used in wetland restoration and rehabilitation. President Clinton has committed the United States Government to devote 1,5 billion dollars during his second mandate to rehabilitate the hydrology of the Everglades, designated as a wetland of international importance under the Convention on Wetlands. Developing countries have also joined in the move, and wetlands are rapidly being recognized as valuable assets for achieving sustainable development. The World Bank and the Global Environment Facility are supporting significant projects related to wetland conservation and sustainable use. The World Bank portfolio of wetland-related projects at 89 sites reaches some 55 million dollars, and according to Bank sources their wetland-related loans are "substantial and growing." The Development Assistance Committee of the OECD has approved guidelines to assist the donor community in improving the conservation and sustainable use of tropical and subtropical wetlands.

Wetland ecologists, hydrologists and conservationists, especially waterbird lovers and hunters, were at the forefront of this reversal in attitude toward wetlands: they all contributed to creating an awareness of the many values wetlands offer. Wetlands benefit people and the environment, both locally and globally. They have been described as "the kidneys of the planet" because of their role in cleansing the waters that pass through them of sediments, chemicals and other pollutants. In many countries, natural or artificial wetlands are being used to treat sewage water, as for example the Salt Lakes Swamp in Calcutta. The city of Phoenix, Arizona, hopes that an experimental, artificially-created wetland at the site of the city's wastewater-treatment plant will help to treat water in a low-cost, environmentally friendly way: the city plans to expand a nearby natural wetland of 5 hectares to 320 hectares, enabling it to handle all the effluent currently generated by the sewage-treatment plant.

Wetlands can also act as "nature’s civil engineers" by providing an effective system of flood control which prevents upstream rain waters from rushing too quickly and too savagely downstream, and by protecting coastal areas from erosion and devastation by sea storms. The 15 million hectares of the Pantanal wetland in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay have a major role in the flood control of rivers flowing down to Argentina and Uruguay, in an area where the annual rainfall is 1,200 - 1,400 mm, 80% of which is concentrated in four months’ time.

Scientists now recognize that wetlands are amongst the most productive ecosystems. They are "biological supermarkets" because of the extensive food webs and rich diversity of plants and animals they harbour. In many wetlands, hunting constitutes an important economic activity. In others, agricultural production, in particular rice, and fisheries constitute the main source of nourishment and income for large numbers of people in many countries. In Canada, there are at least eight wild rice processing plants producing some 5,000 tons per year, with a market value of some seven million dollars. The Tai Hu lake and marshes west of Shanghai are one of the most productive areas in China for fisheries (52 kilograms per hectare per year) and rice production, with some 100,000 hectares of polders on the alluvial plains around the lake.

Wetlands also constitute an important environmental link between the Northern and Southern hemispheres: millions of migratory birds make the journey twice yearly. They depend for their survival upon the concerted wetland conservation action by many countries that are in their range. The blue-winged teal, for example, commutes some 9,600 kilometers from its home above 60°N in Canada to as far south as Argentina and Uruguay below 30°S; the northern pintail and garganey travel every year from the Siberian tundra and taiga to the tropical wetlands of Chad and Senegal. The journeys of these birds and many others like them along the world’s 15 or so major flyways require an unbroken string of wetland stopping places all along their paths.

Yet, in spite of the rise in the status of wetlands in the public’s and governments’ eyes, many wetland areas continue to be under threat. The run-off from agricultural land continues to bring pesticides and fertilisers to wetlands, drastically affecting the quality of wetland waters. Natural wetlands are converted into marinas for recreation and tourism, not always on the basis of sound cost-benefit analysis of the economic value of natural functions versus the value of the new uses. Damming of upstream waters and diversion of waters for other uses, especially irrigation, continue to be one of the most serious threats affecting wetlands, especially in developing countries.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is making a significant contribution to reversing this tendency in favour of wetland conservation and sustainable use. Member countries have included nearly 900 sites in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, covering some 55 million hectares (the size of Spain or Kenya). The Convention is now actively encouraging member countries to prepare and adopt national wetland policies aimed at safeguarding their wetland resources.

Many governments and non-governmental organizations have already announced activities to celebrate World Wetlands Day. They range from interviews with the ministers responsible for wetland issues on national television in Indonesia, to the inauguration of a Wetland Research and Education Center in Bangladesh, to a special wetland nature hike in Japan, to demonstrations by popular children’s wildlife artists on national television in Ireland, to a participatory "wetland arts and crafts" day for children in Hong Kong.


Note to journalists: further information on the Convention on Wetlands can be found on the Convention’s web site: http://iucn.org/themes/ramsar/. The site includes a list of the Administrative Authorities of the Convention in each country (under "About Ramsar") which could be approached for more specific questions related to wetlands in each nation. For further inquiries, please contact: The Ramsar Convention Bureau, Rue Mauverney 28, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland (tel +41 22 999 0170, fax +41 22 999 0169, e-mail ramsar@hq.iucn.org).


Click here for a list of World Wetlands Day 1997 activities reported to the Bureau. For further information please contact the Ramsar Convention Bureau, Rue Mauverney 28, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland (tel +41 22 999 0170, fax +41 22 999 0169, e-mail ramsar@hq.iucn.org). Written by Delmar Blasco and distributed widely in the weeks before WWD; posted here 24 January 1997, Dwight Peck, Ramsar.

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,181 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,545,658

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