Coast KZN

18 Oct 2018

Wetlands are grossly undervalued

Tamlyn Jolly (Zululand Observer) Picture: St Lucia estuary is home to numerous pods of hippo, as well as more than 800 crocodile and many species of waterbirds (Photo: Tamlyn Jolly)

A Ramsar wetlands report reveals the importance of wetlands

Wetland systems are home to and breeding grounds for more than 40% of the world’s species.

Their value is five times more than tropical forests and provide almost all of the world’s consumption of fresh water.

Despite their importance, wetlands have been dangerously undervalued by policymakers globally, leading to wetland dependent species being in serious decline since 1970, with more than 25% of all wetland plants and animals at risk of extinction.

This is according to the first Global Wetland Outlook (GWO) report recently published by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Covering more than 12.1-million square kilometres globally, and with only between 12% and 18% of these on the Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance list, the report highlights that wetlands are ‘dangerously undervalued’ by policy and decision makers.

Entitled ‘Global Wetland Outlook: The Importance of Global Wetlands to Sustainable Development’, the report states that undervaluing wetlands is an ‘inexplicable omission’ given the pivotal role they play on climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity and disaster risk reduction.

Ramsar Convention Secretary General Martha Rojas Urrego, described the findings as a wake-up call, not only on the steep rate of loss of the world’s wetlands, but also on the critical services they provide.

‘Without wetlands, the global agenda on sustainable development will not be achieved,’ she said.
Wetlands comprise the world’s most economically valuable ecosystems and essential regulators of the global climate, and are disappearing three times faster than forests.

About 35% of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970 and 2015, with annual rates of loss accelerating from 2000.

The economic value of services provided by wetlands, according to the report, ‘far exceeds’ those of terrestrial ecosystems, with inland wetlands, for example, valued at five times more than tropical forests, which are the most valuable terrestrial habitat.

Furthermore, wetlands support the livelihoods of more than one billion people.

The GWO warns that simply designating new wetland sites for protection is not enough, but that effective management plans of existing wetlands must be adopted and integrated into national plans on sustainable development, climate change and other key global commitments.

Drawing on successful examples across the world, the report recommends using existing funding mechanisms to apply economic and financial incentives for communities and business to protect wetlands through tax benefits.

It also calls for the ending of ‘perverse incentives for farmers and business, such as subsidies for agriculture that encourages wetland conversion or pollution’.

On our doorstep, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site contains four wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.