Protect your wetlands

Humans often equate wetlands with wasteland; a place to be drained, filled in, burnt off and re-purposed.

In fact, scientific studies show that 64 per cent of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900. Measured against 1 700, an estimated 87 per cent have been lost.

Today, February 2, people around the world will be recognising World Wetlands Day.

Wetlands are everywhere:

* Wetlands are land areas that are saturated or flooded with water either permanently or seasonally.

* Inland wetlands include marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, and swamps.

* Coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons and even coral reefs.

* Fish ponds, rice paddies, and salt pans are human-made wetlands.

* Wetlands range in size from less than a single hectare to the Pantanal in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, which covers an area three times the size of Ireland.

Less than three per cent of the world’s water is fresh, and most of that is frozen.

Yet every human requires 20 to 50 litres of water a day for basic drinking, cooking and cleaning.

In some regions, notably Asia, the loss of wetlands is even higher.

Inland wetlands are disappearing quicker than coastal ones, but the overall trend is clear.

As a result, access to fresh water is declining for one to two billion people worldwide, while flood control, carbon storage and traditional wetland livelihoods all suffer.

According to WWF’s Living Planet Index, the populations of freshwater species, declined by 76 per cent between 1970 and 2010.

The main causes of the degradation and loss of wetlands are:

* Major changes in land use, especially an increase in agriculture and grazing animals.

* Water diversion through dams, dikes and canalisation infrastructure development, particularly in river valleys and coastal areas.

* Air and water pollution and excess nutrients.

Wetlands provide our water needs and help replenish the groundwater aquifers that are an important source of fresh water for humanity.

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