Today – 2 February 2016 – is World Wetlands Day, a day when people all over the planet celebrate two closely linked miracles: the presence of life-giving freshwater and the wetlands that rank among the most important natural storage systems of this water.
It’s quite simple: no wetlands means no water. Wetlands also make vital contributions to people’s well-being and economic growth through activities like farming, fishing and tourism. They host abundant plant and wildlife, protect coastlines, prevent flooding and act as natural sponges that store water, releasing it slowly over time.
Here are five things everyone should know about our wetlands and why we should be looking after them:
1. Wetlands store carbon dioxide, thus slowing the impact of climate change.
2. Since the turn of the last century, about two-thirds of all of the planet’s wetlands have been destroyed. South Africa has already lost over half its wetlands.
3. South Africa has 21 Ramsar sites – these are wetlands of international importance that benefit from greater support for protection.
4. The uMgeni Vlei Nature Reserve is the most recent of South Africa’s Ramsar sites and measures 958 hectares. Our largest site, the Natal Drakensberg Park, spans over 240 000 hectares.
5. In South Africa, the WWF Mondi Wetlands Programme has been working to conserve our wetlands for 25 years. You can help to support this programme by getting a MyPlanet card and making WWF South Africa your chosen beneficiary.