World Wetlands Day 2012

Visit a wetland near you.

World Wetland Day Comic from WWD site 2011

In February of 1971 a group of scientists and world leaders met in Ramsar, Iran to discuss what could be done to protect wetlands around the world. These people were concerned about the rapid loss of wetland habitats and wanted to see if there was something that they could do to change the trend. On February 2nd they signed the Ramsar Convention to protect wetlands. There were 18 countries that signed this document.

World Wetlands Day was established in 1997 to recognize the original convention and to increase public awareness about wetlands and their value. This year’s theme is Wetland Tourism: A Great Experience. According to the Ramsar Secretary General, 470 million people, approximately half of all tourism, visited a wetland area in 2010. That number is growing. That number of tourists is bound to have an impact.

Tourist impacts can be both positive or negative.

Looking at the negatives, there are the pressures from humans to the organisms in the wetland. Many animals do not like people and will leave an area that they consider to be too close to where people are. There are the impacts to the soils from compaction and chemicals from vehicles near or in the wetlands. Too often people thoughtlessly leave their trash behind. Trash is often a hazard to wildlife who ingest it or become entangled in it. Dirty diapers, yes diapers, have multiple issues, bacteria, plastics and the absorbent materials used to keep babies dry are all hazardous to ecosystems. Finally, as in the comic below, people often try to smuggle plants and animals out of the area for their personal use and entertainment.

On the positive side, there is the education of people about the wetland area and the fact that people will share positive experiences with friends. This positive sharing often leads those friends to visit the wetland and to care about the wetland as well. Tourists bring money to the local economy near the wetland funding protections and helping locals earn a living. When the land helps people earn a livelihood, people are more likely to honor and protect it. Knowledge about Charismatic animals, like hippos or cranes, brings protections for them which can benefit the, often more important, invisible species like soil bacteria or aquatic plankton. One last positive impact is more subtle. The thing is, most people are proud of the places they live. The sense of connection to “your place” is, I think, part of the human psyche. People love to share that sense of place with others. Shared experience of a place can bring people together, building bridges between cultures.

Many places will have celebrations to honor the wetlands in the area. Keep an eye out for celebrations in your area and share that information with others. Leave a comment here. Tweet about it on twitter. Post about it on your facebook page. Write to your local paper to encourage them to recognize the day and to promote wetlands in your neighborhood. However you do it, get the word out.

The World Wetlands Day site has materials that you or your group can edit to promote your World Wetland Day celebration. That celebration could be as simple as taking your kid to a wetland or as complicated as hosting a tour for the public to a wetland near you.

In my next post, I will share a few activities that are easy to do to explore the wetlands near you. Some will need a little equipment. Some will need only your eyes and sense of wonder. The point is, take time to visit your wetlands and get to know them. Become a tourist there. But, remember: take only pictures (and some trash), leave only foot prints.

WWD Comic from WWD 2012 Web Site

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