This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Each year since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat helps provide a platform to raise awareness about wetlands.
According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; “Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.”
Wetlands are one of the world’s most important environmental assets, containing a disproportionately high number of plant and animal species compared with other areas of the world. Throughout history they have been integral to human survival and development.
The Ramsar Classification of wetland types includes 42 types which can be broadly divided into:
- Marine and coastal wetlands
- Inland wetlands
- Human-made wetlands
It is estimated that more than a billion people around the world make their living directly from wetlands, including from fishing, rice farming or handicrafts. Other sectors such as travel and eco-tourism, water transport and aquaculture also depend on the health of these ecosystems.
The Ramsar Strategy 2016 - 2024 calls for featuring wetland benefits in strategies and plans for key sectors, such as water, energy, mining, agriculture, tourism, urban development, infrastructure, industry, forestry, aquaculture and fisheries at national and local level. It also calls for wetland functions, services and benefits to be widely demonstrated and documented.
South Africa is one of the contracting parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. South Africa signed the Ramsar Convention in 1971 at its inception and the membership was formalised in 1975 when South Africa ratified the Convention and became the fifth contracting party. One of the obligations of the contracting parties to the Ramsar Convention is to commemorate the World Wetlands Day.
South Africa is a water scarce country, and the water in many streams is polluted. Both droughts and floods are common. In this regard, wetlands play a vital role by removing toxic substances and sediment from the water, while also improving downstream water quality and the overall health of communities.
Wetlands are biologically diverse ecosystems that provide a habitat for many important species, act as buffers against coastal storms, and naturally filter water by breaking down harmful pollutants.
South Africa has 23 Ramsar sites, covering 557 028 ha, which are wetlands of international importance. These are Ramsar wetlands in each province:
Bot-Kleinmond Estuarine System, Langebaan, False Bay Nature Reserve, De Hoop Vlei, De Mond (Heuningnes Estuary), Prince Edward Islands, Verlorenvlei and Wilderness Lakes.
Natal Drakensberg Park, Kosi Bay, Lake Sibaya, Ndumo Game Reserve, Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, St Lucia System, Turtle Beaches/Coral Reefs of Tongaland and uMgeni Vlei Nature Reserve
Verloren Valei Nature Reserve
Makuleke Wetlands and Nylsvley Nature Reserve
Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve
Orange River Mouth