All of Earth’s wetlands, including lakes rivers, swamps, marshes, estuaries, deltas, mangroves and other coastal areas, are critically important biodiversity hotspots and carbon sinks. Furthermore, wetlands provide a buffer against the impacts of floods, droughts, and hurricanes, and support the livelihoods of millions of people.
Despite this, wetlands are the most threatened ecosystems in the world. They are disappearing at an alarming rate – three times faster than forests – as a direct result of human activities and climate change.
Last year, the UN General Assembly proclaimed today (February 2nd) as World Wetlands Day to call attention to the desperate need for wetland conservation and restoration.
On this day in 1971, the “Convention on Wetlands of International Importance” was held in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the Caspian Sea. The convention, which was adopted by 172 countries, empowers nations to take measures to protect their wetlands and out them to good use.
Coastal wetlands absorb and store carbon up to 55 times faster than tropical rainforests. Even though they cover only a small portion (6 percent) of Earth’s land surface, these marine and freshwater habitats support 40 percent of all plant and animal species.
According to the United Nations, more than a billion people across the world depend on wetlands for their livelihoods, which is about one in eight people on Earth. Over the last 50 years, 35 percent of the world’s wetlands have been lost. Human activities that are driving these losses include farming and agriculture; construction; pollution; overfishing and overexploitation of resources; invasive species; and climate change.
Ironically, wetlands offer a natural solution to the global threat of climate change. The UN notes that peatlands alone store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined. When these ecosystems are destroyed, however, they emit vast amounts of carbon.
There is an urgent need to raise national and global awareness about wetlands in order to reverse their rapid loss, says the UN, and today is the ideal time to increase people’s understanding of these critically important ecosystems.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer