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Fishermen in Marismas Nacionales

Fishermen in Marismas Nacionales, an important mangrove ecosystem in Mexico.

Credit: Jaime Rojo

Wetlands: Vital and At Risk

Temporarily or permanently flooded extensions of land create wetlands— oxygen-deprived, hybrid ecosystems that combine the characteristics of both aquatic and terrestrial systems. Wetlands include marshes, páramos, bogs, peatlands, swamps, mangroves and coral reefs.

Wetlands provide people with a host of benefits:

  • Wetlands are natural supermarkets that contain an incredible amount of biodiversity: they are home to more than 100,000 known freshwater species.
  • Our allies in the fight against climate change, wetlands capture and store carbon from the atmosphere. It is estimated that over long periods of time, a hectare of mangroves captures 50 times more carbon dioxide than a tropical forest.
  • Wetlands help to reduce the risk of natural disasters . An example of this happened in 2011, when the Veracruz Reef System in the Gulf of Mexico protected the city of Veracruz from the category four Hurricane Karl.
  • Wetlands are a source of livelihood and employment for millions of people. In Panama alone, 90 percent of incomefrom fishing comes from catching species that, at some stage in their life, depend on the wetlands of the Panama Bay. What’s more, water to irrigate the country’s 570 million agricultural crops comes from these ecosystems.
  • By forming beautiful landscapes, wetlands are a center of recreational and tourist activities, such as bird watching.

Under threat

Even though they are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, more than 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared. The causes of their degradation include:

  • Activities like agriculture that promote changes in land use , and contribute to the loss of coverage of wetlands. An example is the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta in Colombia, which is at risk from agricultural practices that have affected its water supply.
  • Poorly planned urban development like that which threatened Panama Bay, where the mangroves were filled in and cut down to construct roads and houses.
  • Obstruction of the water flow that feeds wetlands, as in the construction of the Las Cruces hydroelectric project in Mexico on the San Pedro Mezquital river, on which Marismas Nacionales, one of the most important mangrove forests in the country, depends.
  • Contamination of subterranean water sources by activities like mining.

What can we do for them?

At AIDA we work to protect wetlands in the Americas . We’ve advocated for the preservation of the Colombian páramosand the Mexican wetlands, such as Cabo PulmoMarismas Nacionales and the Veracruz Reef System. We’ve also created rigorous reports about the international legal obligations that Costa Rica must meet to protect its corals, and about the standards of protection of corals in Mexico.

And we’re ready to do more! We are currently preparing for the 12th Conference of Parties (COP12) for the Ramsar Convention , an intergovernmental treaty that has since 1971 promoted the protection of wetlands and established principles for their conservation and sustainable use through national action and international cooperation.

The countries that sign and ratify the Convention are home to wetlands on the Ramsar List. They commit to taking steps necessary to maintain the ecological characteristics of these sites , which hold such significant value for their country and for all of humanity.

The Conference will put to the test the promises that Latin American countries have made to protect their wetlands. The Parties will release Strategic Plan 2016-2021 , which will lay the foundation for the conservation of these ecosystems in the region.

We’ll be at the Conference alongside partner organizations and decision markers to advocate for the best possible preservation of these beacons of health and biodiversity for the region.