If you haven’t already started planning what you are going to do in celebration of World Wetland Day (February 2, 2016), the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) has some information and ideas that can help you plan something for next month. The following blog will share with you the background of World Wetlands Day, why gaining attention for wetland issues is important, an initial list of ten things you, personally, can do to celebrate wetlands either February 2nd or year-round, and some additional resources for teachers and students. This blog post has been compiled from World Wetlands Day Websites and Resources.
What is World Wetlands Day?
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on February 2nd. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods is the theme for World Wetlands Day in 2016. This theme was selected to demonstrate the vital role of wetlands for the future of humanity and specifically their relevance towards achieving new sustainable development goals. Since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat provides outreach materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands. For ongoing information on World Wetlands Day via social media, we encourage you to follow #WorldWetlandsDay or #WetlandsForOurFuture.
What is happening to wetlands worldwide?
Wetlands play an important role in the processes that keep our landscapes healthy and productive. They support industries such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism by supplying water for crops, stock and people, maintaining water quality, providing habitat for commercial species and having cultural and recreational values. Wetlands host a huge variety of life, protect our coastlines, provide natural defenses against river flooding or storm surges and store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change. Additionally, more than 1 billion rely on wetlands in one way or another for their livelihoods.
Unfortunately, wetlands are often viewed as wasteland, and more than 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900. In some regions, notably Asia, the loss is even higher. This rapid decline means that access to fresh water is eroding for 1-2 billion people worldwide, while flood control, carbon storage and traditional wetland livelihoods all suffer. Biodiversity has also been affected. Populations of freshwater species have declined by 76% between 1970 and 2010 according to WWF’s Living Planet Index. The main causes of wetlands loss and degradation are: 1) major changes in land use, especially an increase in agriculture and grazing, 2) air and water pollution and excess nutrients, and 3) water diversion through dams, dikes and canalization.
Ten Things You Can Do to Celebrate World Wetlands Day 2016:
1) Attend a wetland event: For example, during the month of February, wetland habitats at four locations in the Caddo Lake System will be improved via the installation of wetland trees by school children and adult volunteers. To learn more about a variety of projects worldwide, go here.
2) Encourage youth to participate in the 2016 World Wetlands Day Photo Contest: Photos must be taken in a wetland location between February 2, 2016 and March 2, 2016 and uploaded here. The photograph must be taken in a wetland and must capture how people make a living from wetlands. The winner will receive a free flight to a wetland location anywhere in the world, courtesy of Star Alliance Biosphere Connections. To enter, take a picture of your favorite wetland with your phone or digital camera between 2 February and 2 March 2016, and upload it to the World Wetlands Day website.
3) Open your eyes to the wetlands near you: Look around to see what types are in your area. Saltwater marshes, fens, swamps, peat bogs and mangroves are some of the more common types. Coral reefs, lakes and rivers are also considered wetlands.
4) Visit a wetland near you to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for wetlands: What kind of vegetation and wildlife thrive there? How the site is being used? Go back at different times of year and observe how the surroundings change.
5) Organize a wetlands clean-up: In populated areas, wetlands often become an area where trash is dumped. Working in a group for an hour or two can clean-up a wetland in a very short time. Take pictures before and after to highlight the difference. A useful guide about preparing waterway cleanups can be found here.
6) Help others to understand the huge benefits that wetlands bring, both globally and locally: Often, wetlands are seen as wasteland — something to be filled in, drained, burned off or converted to other uses. Drop some interesting facts about wetlands into the conversation. If you see any illegal activities such as logging in a protected site, report it to the relevant authorities.
7) Seek out volunteering opportunities: Talk with wetland site managers to see what kind of help they could use. Volunteer in ways that help with wetland protection, conservation, monitoring and assessment, outreach, advocacy, clean-ups or restoration projects.
8) Change your consumption habits: Saving water, reducing harmful waste and encouraging sustainable farming and fishing can all have a positive effect on wetlands. Buy sustainably raised or caught seafood, organic produce and meat. Use reusable bags at the grocery store. Take shorter showers. Recycle household trash, and make sure that batteries and other harmful waste do not end up in landfills – or in wetlands!
9) Manage your garden and home activities consciously: Polluted water and invasive plants pose a real threat to wetlands. Select native and pest-resistant plants and place them in settings that suit them. Use as little fertilizer as possible, and avoid toxic pesticides. Water thoroughly but infrequently, using collected rainwater. Other practices, such as washing your car at a car wash instead of in your driveway, picking up pet waste, and properly disposing of chemical products can keep pollutants out of wetlands and improve both wetland water quality and habitat.
10) Explore getting a local wetland designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance: Is there a wetland site in your area that is not yet listed with Ramsar but perhaps should be protected? Contact a local government, university or nonprofit organization to see how you can help maintain its ecological character.
Additional World Wetlands Day 2016 Resources for Teachers and Students:
If you are a teacher, we encourage you to combine an educational event with World Wetlands Day. Consult the Guide for teachers and organizers for loads of tips. Other activities we suggest include:
- Encourage your students to research wetland topics. There are many online resources to help you do this. One site that allows students to research wetland-related water topics is here.
- Learn about wetlands in your state or region. There are many teacher guides that are useful to wetlands in each region of the country. One example from the Southeast is Exploring our Wonderful Wetlands, which can be downloaded here.
- Take on the mantel of an environmental club leader and use this interesting resource to search specific wetland types here.
- Conduct a classroom science experiment to stimulate discussion about wetlands. One example of a fun and easy classroom experiment can be found here.
And there are many, many more ways you can explore, share and protect wetlands. Your celebration of wetlands is limited only by your imagination! We encourage you to take the time to think about what you can do this year and find some great ways to TAKE ACTION. Happy planning!