World Wetlands Day
Last February 2 was World Wetlands Day.
Numerous activities throughout the world were observed to commemorate the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar City in Iran. The covenant, also known as the Ramsar Convention, was passed way back on February 2, 1971, but it was only during the past years when it was getting more attention.
Today, the World Wetlands Day is one of the important conservation events in the country. The Philippines is a signatory to this international treaty.
The convention provides a broad definition of wetlands, which include lakes, rivers, underground aquifers, swamps, marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas, and tidal flats. Even mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites, such as fishponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and saltpans are similarly considered as wetlands.
Each contracting party to the Ramsar Convention is required to designate at least one wetland site for inclusion to the list of wetlands of international importance. So far, the Philippines has seven wetlands that are already listed as Ramsar sites, and these are the Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro, Tubbataha Reef Natural Park and Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan, Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Agusan del Sur, Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu, Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area, and the Las Piñas Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area. These sites are being recognized internationally because they offer significant values not only for the Philippines but the entire world, too, as they are especially known as refuge of migratory birds, some of which are declared as threatened species.
The Ramsar site in Negros Occidental has been noted to have the presence of some of the most globally-threatened species , including the recently-recorded critically endangered Spoonbill sandpiper, two endangered (Great know and Nordmann's greenshank) and three vulnerable (Far eastern curlew, Philippine duck and Chinese Egret) species. The Philippine duck is an endemic species to the Philippines. The recording of these waterfowls in the NOCWCA makes it as one of the most valuable global sites for migratory and water birds.
Wetlands are unique ecosystems that offer numerous direct and indirect benefits to the people, and they are likewise important habitats of both biologically and economically viable species. The ecosystem services we derived from wetlands are countless, like freshwater supply for domestic, agricultural and industrial needs, and varieties of food, among others. Wetlands also control flooding and serve as groundwater recharge.
Many of our wetlands are now highly disturbed, as some of them have been converted into other purposes, particularly agriculture and housing. A good number of our freshwater bodies, such as lakes and rivers, are polluted and contaminated with hazardous substances, and this is prevalent in major urban centers, like Metro Manila and its nearby cities and towns.
This is precisely the reason why this year's celebration has a theme of “Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future”.
The Ramsar Convention provides a framework for the wise and sustainable use of wetlands, and each of the contracting party should ensure the implementation of measures to protect them from destructive activities. But looking into some Ramsar sites in the Philippines, it is quite disturbing to know some issues and challenges.
In the Agusan Marsh, where I had the opportunity to provide technical assistance to the provincial government of Agusan del Sur in developing Local Conservation Areas, I found out that a large part of it has been classified as alienable and disposable lands and privately titled, while some of its portions are now covered with oil palm plantations. One of the issues I encountered while doing the management planning for the Naujan Lake in Oriental Mindoro was the conversion of certain parts of the lake into settlement and agriculture. The Las Piñas Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area is also threatened with pollution and a proposed reclamation project. Although not a Ramsar site, the Laguna Lake in Metro Manila has been subjected to numerous reclamation projects.*
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