World Wetlands Day sees numerous new protected areas

An international organisation created 38 newly-protected wetland areas in six countries on 2 February, as conservationists warned that, without protection, water shortages would be more severe in at least 60 nations by 2050.

India is to create the greatest number of Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, or Ramsar sites, with 13, followed by Algeria (10), Pakistan (8), Australia (3) and Colombia and Slovakia (1). The Ramsar List of Wetlands of International arises from a 1971 convention, signed in Ramsar, Iran, providing the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources by national action and international co-operation.

Ramsar sees Algeria’s as the most significant achievement. In a nation known more for its deserts than abundance of water, the Algerian government has designated ten desert wetland sites, all gueltas – water sources in rocky deserts – and oases, protecting a total area of 2,300 square miles (6,000 sq km) nationwide. This is the largest block of wetlands to be conserved by a Mediterranean country and the nation is the first African country to designate oases, and the first country in the world to designate gueltas for protection.

The governments of India and Pakistan announced the designation of 13 and eight sites, respectively, and said they would announce details shortly, while Australia created three new Ramsar sites and extended four others (see related story). The largest new site is the Muir-Byenup System of lakes and swamps in Western Australia. Slovakia designated its Domica subterranean karst system to be its 12th Ramsar site, while Colombia got its second. Laguna de la Cocha is largely made up of a volcanic lake and the surrounding highland Andean peatlands and forest, housing numerous endangered bird and animal species.

However, WWF and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands said that less than 10% of freshwater wetland worldwide is now protected and warned that at least 60 countries face water shortages by 2050, if freshwater systems are not preserved, whilst others face severe flooding because of the loss of wetlands.

More than half the world’s wetlands have been destroyed in the past 100 years, and today, over 800 million people around the world are without basic clean freshwater (see related story).

“Governments must take concrete action in order to protect their populations from the dual threats of too little water or too much water,” said Denis Landenbergue, of WWF’s Living Waters Campaign. “Responsible governments should already be planning to secure the water supply for future generations. This will only be done if a much greater percent of the world’s wetlands are effectively preserved from threats such as drainage and pollution.”

“What’s significant is the growing awareness and direct participation, especially in developing countries, that nature is the source and conserving it is the only hope for safe, clean water,” said Dr. Nick Davidson, Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention. “Not every country has a tropical rainforest or coral reef to conserve, but all have at least one type of freshwater ecosystem.”

On the same day, several other countries extended existing Ramsar sites to celebrate World Wetlands Day, including the UK, which extended the Caithness Lochs site by over 500%.

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