Message by SG Anada Tiéga on the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity, 22 May 2011
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands joins in worldwide celebrations every 22 May of the International Day for Biological Diversity – fittingly, because the goals and values of our convention correspond well with those of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its many partners around the world, and the main focus of our work, the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources, is firmly fixed upon the importance of wetlands for the planet’s biodiversity and human welfare.
This year’s theme for the International Day for Biological Diversity is “Forest Biodiversity”, in recognition of the United Nations International Year of Forests, established by the UN General Assembly to raise awareness about the sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. For the Ramsar Convention, our World Wetlands Day theme on 2 February this year was “Wetlands and Forests”, organized around the slogan “Forests for Water and Wetlands”, similarly chosen to reinforce the message of the International Year of Forests.
Wetlands and forest biodiversity
The connections between forest biodiversity and many types of wetlands are many and increasingly recognized as vitally important. Swamp forests, for example, provide fish and many other aquatic foods, both animal and plant, consumed by humans the world over; they provide diverse habitats for an impressive range of animal and plant species, thus contributing significantly to global biodiversity; and importantly, they provide livelihoods for local communities. To name one: the 400,000-hectare Ramsar Site known as Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta in Colombia is the most important and largest mangrove area on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, vital for local fisheries and for biodiversity.
These Ramsar Sites (or “Wetlands of International Importance”) form the most extensive global network of protected areas in the world, with more than 1,920 sites, covering an area of 188 million hectares, having been designated for the Ramsar List by the 160 Parties to the Convention. Of the nine criteria for identifying Wetlands of International Importance, eight of them are biodiversity-related, and a recent survey showed that about 43% of these Ramsar Sites are characterized by the presence of one or more types of forested wetland, more than 825 of them, covering more than 79 million hectares – they include mangrove, nipah, and tidal freshwater swamp forests, peatswamp forests, seasonally flooded forests and wooded swamps, among other wetland types.
Forested wetlands with robust and sustainable biodiversity values provide an enormous range of benefits to people as well as to the plant and animal life of the planet. In the terms of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s findings on ecosystem services, we can look to wetland forests for such “provisioning services” as fresh water, fish, prawns, seaweed, fruit, grain, wild game, timber for fuel and building materials, and medicines. Among “regulating services” we find climate regulation, flood control, storm protection, water purification, and waste treatment; “cultural services” include beautiful places for recreation and education and, frequently, places of religious significance; “supporting services” include nutrient cycling, sediment retention, and provision of habitats.
Threats to the biodiversity of forested wetlands
The Ramsar Convention and its partners are acutely aware of the threats to our wetlands and their biodiversity, as well as of the loss and degradation still occurring at alarming rates in many countries when those threats have not been foreseen and resolved in time. A recent survey by Ramsar staff of the origins of such losses turned up a daunting list of sources of negative impacts, including habitat loss through wetlands claimed for agriculture and urban and industrial development; invasive species, both accidental and deliberate, disrupting the abundance and survival of native species; pollution through agricultural runoff, toxic industrial wastes flowing into waterways, and untreated human wastes, for example; siltation in coastal areas from the outflow from silt-laden rivers through agriculture, deforestation, etc.; overexploitation through unsustainable harvesting of fish, shellfish and prawns, seaweeds, wetland timber, and other products; excessive freshwater withdrawals, especially for irrigated agriculture; nutrient loading from nitrogen, phosphorous and other chemicals (mostly from agriculture but also from poorly treated domestic waste) and, of course, climate change, exacerbating all of these human impacts.
Looking to the future
The importance of forest biodiversity for all of us cannot be denied, the threats to forest biodiversity are many and pervasive, and the trends are still going in the wrong direction. But we are confident that the Ramsar Convention and its partners, the Convention on Biological Diversity and its many constituents, and the countless other organizations and individuals around the world who are committed to finding solutions can, by working together, reverse those trends and eventually leave future generations a world in which the biodiversity losses of forests, wetlands, and other habitats have been stabilized and will be genuinely sustainable.
Many of the tools we need are already well known: good management of protected areas, and more protected areas; increased awareness amongst the public and decision-makers of the values, even the monetary values, of ecosystem services; restoration of degraded natural areas and rehabilitation of their ecological character to the extent possible; greater public investment in sustainable resources and less reliance on destructive exploitation of limited natural resources to power development, and certainly the new ideas that are being developed and tested even now.
The Ramsar community joins with our colleagues of the CBD and people all over the world in marking the International Day for Biological Diversity by renewing our commitment to working together towards a sustainable future for those who come after us.