If you are living on the coast, chances are you are living on a wetland which has been reclaimed. This is not to say wetlands cannot be found in all administration regions of Guyana because depending on where you are, you may be exposed to various types of wetlands. Important to note is that, wetlands are not waste lands, they have great value. Wetlands can be defined as transition zones between aquatic (water) and terrestrial (land) ecosystems. These areas are significant since they provide countless natural services which include the important role they play in the battle against climate change. However, while they are our natural weapons to combat this global threat, they are also vulnerable to it. World Wetlands Day is observed every year on February 2 to spread awareness about wetlands. This year, the theme for the day is “Wetlands and Climate Change.”
Wetlands – a natural remedy for climate change
There are different types of wetlands, all of which have characteristics that help them to combat the effects of climate change. Wetlands exist as marshes, mangroves, floodplains, lakes, swamps and mudflat. Wetlands provide both environmental and socio-economic benefits. Some of these include:
– Protection of the coastline;
– Prevention of natural disasters;
– Purification of water;
– Provision of habitat for many species of organisms;
– Provision of resources to encourage agricultural activities; eg fishing, apiculture
In addition, wetlands are important for the reduction of climate change impacts since they rapidly absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide. For instance, mangroves store 50 times more carbon than tropical forests. Additionally, mangrove forests are also used as adaptation mechanisms by protecting shorelines from sea-level rise.
Climate change – a threat to wetlands
Wetlands provide a natural response to climate change impacts. At the same time, however, they are vulnerable ecosystems. For instance, with increases in global temperatures, sea-level rise and extreme weather pattern are resulting in the degradation of wetland ecosystems. With the increase in average global temperatures, it has led to the loss of many habitats resulting in extinction of many species. In addition, degradation to wetlands leads to desertification, making it impossible to use the land for agriculture. It was recorded that since 1970, we have seen a loss of 35 per cent of the world’s wetlands.
Measures taken to protect wetlands
The Ramsar Convention, on Wetlands was first held in Iran in 1971. It is the main initiative taken to manage the use of wetlands. Through this convention, an intergovernmental agreement was drafted which provides the structure for countries to be guided on the sustainable use and conservation of wetlands. With the ratification of 170 countries, there are currently 2339 Ramsar Sites around the world which are noted as Wetland of International Importance and are protected under the Treaty.
Guyana has not signed on to the Convention. However, measures are in place to manage and conserve wetlands in Guyana. One of the main focus areas is the North Rupununi, a unique ecosystem that influences Guyana’s rich biodiversity particularly aquatic organisms. National actions are also taken to protect mangroves which are the natural guardians of our coast. You can play a role in Wetlands Conservation
If we do not start recognising the importance of wetlands and conduct more researches to examine how vulnerable they are, all the wonderful services and benefits they provide will eventually disappear. Since, wetlands provide numerous benefits, citizens can help in clean-up efforts, restoration and conservation of these ecosystems. In addition, it is advised that proper studies be done before reclaiming wetlands for developmental activities. World Wetlands Day allows for us to reflect on the many services these ecosystems provide especially as we continue to battle against climate change. In addition, World Wetlands Day calls for global awareness and education on these valuable areas.
You can share your ideas and questions by sending letters to: “Our Earth, Our Environment”, C/O ECEA Programme, Environmental Protection Agency, Ganges Street, Sophia, GEORGETOWN, or email us at: [email protected] or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.