On February 2, United States Embassies from
South America to the Middle East will join their local communities
to commemorate World Wetlands Day, an annual celebration
of the vital importance of wetlands to the world’s
ecological health and of efforts to conserve these invaluable
habitats. The day marks the anniversary of the Ramsar Convention
on Wetlands, signed February 2, 1971 in Ramsar, Iran.
year’s theme, “There’s wealth in wetland
diversity --- don’t lose it,” emphasizes the
biological and cultural diversity of wetlands and their
important role in sustaining people physically and emotionally.
Wetlands are a source of water, food, recreation, transportation,
and, in some places, are part of the local religious and
cultural heritage. They provide groundwater replenishment,
benefiting inhabitants of entire watersheds.
Wetlands play a vital role in storm and
flood protection and water filtration. In addition, they
provide a rich feeding ground for migratory birds, fish,
and other animals and boost local economies through opportunities
for the harvesting of aquatic resources and ecotourism.
Despite the great value of wetlands, they
have been shrinking worldwide, including in the United States.
In 1987 the U.S. joined the Ramsar Convention, an international
treaty that aims to halt the worldwide loss of wetlands
and to conserve those that remain. The treaty’s 144
Contracting Parties have designated 1,404 wetlands sites
totaling more than 300 million acres for inclusion in the
Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Most
recently, on Earth Day 2004, President Bush announced an
aggressive new national initiative to move beyond a policy
of ‘no net loss’ of wetlands to an overall increase
of wetlands in America. The President’s goal is to
create, improve, and protect at least three million wetland
acres over the next five years in order to increase overall
wetland acreage and quality.
The U.S. designated three new Ramsar sites
last month: the 2500-acre Tijuana River National Estuarine
Research Reserve in San Diego, CA; the 160,000-acre Grassland
Ecological Area in western Merced County, CA; and the 1000-acre
Kawainui and Hamakua Marsh Complex located on the northeast
coast of the island of Omahu, HI. That brings the total
number of U.S. Ramsar sites to 22, covering nearly 3.2 million
For further information, visit the
State Department’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment and
Science website at http://www.state.gov/g/oes
and the Ramsar website at http://ramsar.org/