Matton Images / Sami Sarkis

What are wetlands and why should we protect them?

Posted on 10 December 2014.

Wetlands cover approximately 6% of the land surface and provide 25% of global food. With an exceptional diversity of plant and animal species and a key position in water management, the wetlands keep our planet healthy. But they are under threat.

Wetlands are essential to life on earth… to the fauna and flora that live there, and to humankind which draws on their natural resources.

The saltwater marshes of the Camargue in France, home to flamingos and herds of horses; the Pantanal, a vast wild flooded plain sprawling over three Latin American countries; the Nile Delta, home to Ancient Egypt, one of the most remarkable civilizations in history having thrived there for millennia. Wetlands have many faces – from the majestic areas fanning out over thousands of kilometers to the myriad swamps, lagoons, and mangroves that can be found at every latitude.

Wetlands are waterlogged areas of land – a transition between land and water. The Ramsar Convention defines wetlands as "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 meters". By June 19, 2014, 2186 sites had been recognized as being of international importance under the Convention, covering an area of more than 208 million hectares.

Adopted on 2 February 1971 in Ramsar, Iran, the mission of the Convention on Wetlands is conservation and wise use. These natural environments are now under threat - industrialization, intensive farming, urbanization and tourism have led to their destruction and degradation. 50% have been destroyed since 1900. Nonetheless wetlands are essential to life on earth – to the fauna and flora that live there, and to humankind which draws on their natural resources. Wetlands fulfill a number of fundamental ecological functions, and provide us with ecosystem services too. (French).

So there are a good many reasons to protect them! Over recent decades, many countries have signed the Ramsar Convention and through national regulations have now recognized the importance of wetlands and made a commitment to protecting and devising sustainable ways of exploiting them.

Learn more:

- Official Ramsar Convention website
- World map of wetlands
- Vine video competition organized by the Ramsar Convention to celebrate the World Wetland Day