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World Wetlands Day, February 2

A celebration of the vital importance of wetlands to the world's ecological health

Posted: January 28, 2005

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.

This 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 acres.

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/

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