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Thursday 18 July 2019

Ramsar Convention aiming to conserve use of wetlands

Otters are quintessential wetland animals.
Otters are quintessential wetland animals.

Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2 February so this year it falls on Saturday of this week. The event is an initiative of the Standing Committee of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. The convention is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran on the shores of the Caspian Sea, where it was signed on 2 February 1971. World Wetlands Day is the annual commemoration to mark the date of the adoption of the convention.

Since it was adopted on 2 February 1971 forty-eight years ago, 168 countries have become contracting parties to the convention, designating 2,331 Ramsar sites covering an area of some 209 million hectares of wetlands. The Convention was most recently ratified by North Korea in 2018. The total global wetland resource is estimated to be over 12.1 million kilometres squared, an area almost as large as Greenland.

Each year, World Wetlands Day has a specific theme. This year, the theme is 'Wetlands and Climate Change'. Climate change is very much the flavour of the month and is a topic that we are going to hear a lot more about in years to come.

Although still covering a global area almost as large as Greenland, wetlands are declining rapidly with 35% losses recorded since 1970 where data are available. As a result, wetland plants and animals are in crisis, with a quarter of species at risk of extinction.

The quality of remaining wetlands is also suffering due to drainage, pollution, invasive species, unsustainable use, disrupted flow regimes and climate change.

Part of the problem is that in the past many wetlands were seen as unproductive land, areas that were, as the saying of the time went, 'Good for nothing but wildlife'! The popular view was that these areas needed to be drained and made 'productive'. Fortunately, that misguided view has changed with policy makers and we are now encouraged to embrace and value our wetlands.

The Ramsar Convention entered into force in Ireland on 15 March 1985 and Ireland currently has 45 Ramsar sites covering 66,994 hectares. For further information about these sites, World Wetlands Day 2019 and the Ramsar Convention in Ireland see http://irishwetlands.ie/index.php/wetlands-climate-change/.

And do consider visiting your local wetland on Saturday 2 February, or on another day at your convenience, to celebrate both wetlands and World Wetlands Day and to enjoy contact with the natural world.

Sligo Champion

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