Wetlands – rivers, lakes, marshes, temporary ponds, seashores, etc – are among the world’s most productive environments for the countless benefits and services they provide to humanity.
Managing wetlands is a global challenge that must be guided by the Ramsar Convention philosophy of “wise use”. The Convention defines wise use of wetlands as “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”. Wise use can thus be seen as the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and all the services they provide, for the benefit of people and nature.
Currently, wetlands suffer from a variety of combined threats, mostly from human activity. Reaching proper management and protection of these areas requires complex interventions but some actions are crucial for a positive outcome. A partnership led by Wetlands International proposes a list of five concrete suggestions, drawn from experience in different wetlands of the Mediterranean.
The first step to protect these areas is to raise awareness of their characteristics, their importance, and their fragility. Despite their importance, these areas are often undervalued by communities, stakeholders, and decision-makers. Knowledge and public awareness create greater responsiveness to introduce a management approach. In addition, the variety of wetlands and their context requires plans adapted to local specificities.
Local communities, institutions, NGOs, and private sector are fundamentalstakeholders. Inclusivity allows identifying criticalities and needs, in order to establish a sustainable and long-lasting plan. Strong involvement and participation support collective decision-making for protecting wetlands and securing their sustainablemanagement against future threats.
Needless to say, conserving wetlands requires cooperation. It is a complex process, that demands a multidisciplinary approach, integrating different processes and instruments, sharing knowledge and information, strengthen institutional weaknesses, build capacity and responsibility of all stakeholders to manage and conserve wetlands sustainably. In summary, cooperation can foster better relationships among stakeholders promoting sustainable use of wetlands.
Furthermore, it is necessary to identify the economic and social systems surrounding these important areas to propose cost-effective and sustainable alternatives and adjustments. Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and sustainable development, as suggested by the “wise use”, help social welfare and stability, strengthening communities’ identity and independence. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines NbS as “actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”. Restoring and managing wetlands is the perfect example of NbS, providing crucial help to mitigate climate change.
Finally, rivers, lakes, wetlands, the sea, and more in general water, are global assets, not properties of a single country. They are interconnected. A forward-looking approach requires transnational integrated water resources management. In this way, it is possible to intervene collaboratively to decide common goals of water management and coordinate the different resources to achieve them.
Protecting wetlands calls for a complementary and integrated approach. Knowledge and public awareness, inclusivity, cooperation, nature-based solutions and sustainable development, and integrated water resources management, should be part of the framework for tailored management and lasting solutions.