Wednesday last week was the commemoration of the World Wetlands Day with the theme “Wetlands Action for People and Nature”.
The United Nations General Assembly declared February 2 as World Wetlands Day, which is probably the latest global conservation event since the proclamation was only made in August 30 last year. This declaration was anchored on the Wetlands Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
The 50th year of the treaty on wetlands was commemorated in 2021. The UN adopted the convention in 1971 and it came into force in 1975 in the Iranian City of Ramsar, the reason why it is also known as the Ramsar Convention. Almost 90 percent of the UN member states acceded to become contracting parties, including the Philippines.
Wetlands encompass a broad range of water bodies. These include lakes, rivers, estuaries, marshes, petlands, tidal flats, mudflats, and coastal and marine waters, among others. Given that wetlands cover numerous ecosystems, they provide countless environmental services, including clean air and water, wildlife habitat, abatement of flooding and other natural hazards and risks, recharge for groundwater, fishing, recreation, tourism, and many others. As such wetlands are vital components of our life support system.
Each contracting party must designate at least one Wetlands of International Importance, also known as Ramsar Site, which shall be officially recognized by the Ramsar Secretariat, and it will be included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance.
As of today, the Philippines has eight recognized Ramsar Sites, including the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area spanning from Bago City to Ilog in southern part of the province. The NOCWCA, declared in 2016, is so far the largest Wetlands of International Importance in the country, estimated at about 89,607 hectares. The Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu was the first Ramsar Site in the Philippines, covering about 5,800 hectares, in 1994. The Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro, Agusan Wildlife Sanctuary in Agusan del Sur and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan followed in 1999.
Another site in Palawan was inscribed into the Ramsar Site List in 2012, the Puerto Princesa Underground River Natural Park. The Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area in Metro Manila was included as Wetlands of International Importance in 2013, and the latest was the Sasmuan Pampanga Coastal Wetlands in Pampanga in 2021. Many other sites in the country are potential to become Ramsar Sites, including a coastal area in Cadiz City in northern Negros Occidental.
One of the distinguishing features of our wetlands is its important role as a migratory bird area. Thousands of waterbirds are flocking in our wetlands during migration season. These wetlands provide shelter and are feeding grounds of numerous species that are seeking refuge in the country during winter. Some of these species are already classified as globally threatened from extinction in the wild.
These birds are protected under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also known as Bonn Convention. This convention serves as sort of a “visa” to migratory birds to land and stay in foreign countries. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is spearheading the Annual Waterbird Count, which coincides with the Asian Waterbird Count. The purpose of the count is to determine what species and their population migrate to the country annually. The result of which is one of the determining factors in evaluating the inclusion of sites as Wetlands of International Importance.
It is unfortunate, however, that many of our wetlands are deteriorating and some were destroyed due to their conversion into various uses, such as settlement, infrastructure, commercial and industrial development. Reclamation projects are primarily beyond these conversions of our wetlands. Other issues are pollution, mangrove destruction, and illegal fishing and other destructive exploitation of wetlands resources.
Aside from ecological purposes, these wetlands are vital in food production. Parts of our wetlands are spawning and breeding grounds of commercially viable fishery resources. The deterioration and destruction of wetlands are now causing the decline of fishery production, which in effect also has resulted in the diminishing income of many who are dependent on them for their livelihood.*