The 2nd February each year is the World Wetlands Day (WWD). This particular date has been selected because it marks the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the 2nd February 1971. Every year the Ramsar Convention, as it is being called by most people nowadays, selects a theme and raises awareness on specific types of wetlands or aspects of wetland management. This year the theme they have selected is Wetlands and Forests which was chosen especially as 2011 is the UN International year of Forests. The slogan is simple but effective- Forests for water and wetlands-.
This theme and slogan bring attention to the role that forests have in our lives. Forested wetlands are biologically diverse areas which not only help freshwater management but also provide carbon storage- a very important property in a world threatened by rising Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and climate change. The main types of forested wetlands are forested peatlands, freshwater tree dominated wetlands and mangroves. Peatlands are exceptional carbon stores and can be found in Northern Europe, Russia, Canada and some parts of South East Asia. Freshwater tree-dominated wetlands are forests that are permanently or seasonally flooded and can be found from tropical to temperate to boreal regions around the world. Finally, mangroves are found in tropical and sub tropical regions and are very important for their carbon storing, biodiversity and storm and flood protection properties. However, this type of forested wetland has been greatly abused with experts claiming that almost 20% of the world’s mangroves have disappeared between 1980 and 2005. Mangroves are typically converted to agricultural land, used for aquaculture or urban expansion. Overall, all the aforementioned types of forested wetlands provide many services for water, for food, for livelihoods, for carbon storage and hence, are crucial for the survival not only of the populations living in proximity but of the world at large.
The theme selected by Ramsar for this year WWD also draws attention to the function of forests-wet or not- and their role in our lives. Beyond the typical benefits they have to humans like providing timber, food, medicine, fruits and other goods, they also provide a whole range of services that are not always taken into consideration like watershed and local flood control, protection from wind and soil erosion, air pollution filtering, avalanche and storm protection, carbon storage, production of oxygen and many others. Wetlands and their conservation is directly linked to healthy forests in our catchments, especially to riparian forests which are found around rivers, streams and lakes.
The Ramsar Secretariat has created a poster, a booklet and other WWD material which are available here. They are very useful for raising awareness on wetlands and for accomodating children’s activities. They are available also in a format with which they can be customized to other languages and enriched with national and regional information.