By Janis Theron
If you are wondering what a wetland is then think back to your youth. Do you remember playing in a huge swamp, with your fishing rod, your boats, you gumboots and your homemade toys? Do you remember making mud animals and clay-lighting your best friend with mud attached to the end of a stick you found? Do you remember swimming in a warm lagoon beside the ebb and flow of the ocean tides? Most children have memories of going to the beach, swimming in a river, or catching fish from a river mouth or estuary.
All of these watery wonderlands are essential wetlands, essential for human survival! But, most importantly, essential for the survival of other living things such as the birds, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles and tiny organisms which all form part of the essential wetland food chain.If this is news to you, then you probably didn’t know that on Monday 2 February the world celebrated World Wetland Day, celebrated every year on 2 February, worldwide. On this day in 1971, global leaders adopted the Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran. Every year since then, small steps are being taken to spread the word about wetlands and their importance to life on Earth.
It is uncanny that when we go away on holiday, we often choose a destination associated with water – a romantic beach or island somewhere sunny, a river where we can kayak and sip sun downers, an estuary where we can hook huge game fish or a dam where we can swim, fish and play. All of these watery destinations are, in fact, wetlands! And without them, tourism would not have one of its basic foundations, and countries would battle to attract visitors to their shores. It is not strange that people love water and wetlands!
Mozambique is one such destination, offering all of this and more. Botswana’s Okavango Delta is another famous wetland destination in Africa. Lake Malawi and Victoria Falls are landmarks that every tourist into Africa simply has to experience. These are all essential tourist attractions and havens of biodiversity – they make money and they make water, all essential for human survival!
However, it is very unfortunate that the one factor that attracts people to our wetlands is actually also the one of the greatest contributors to wetland loss – indiscriminate tourism development can cause huge destruction to water ways.Waste products are dumped or leaked into wetlands and the use of concrete causes excess run-off into streets and storm water drains, contributing to flooding. Often, wetlands are filled with concrete to make a new housing development or office block! A huge issue for flooding…
Latest research indicates that over 64% of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed since 1900, and in some regions, notably Asia, the loss is even higher, according to Dr. Christopher Briggs, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention.
It is true that wetlands within river basins act as natural sponges, absorbing rainfall, creating wide surface pools that reduce the impact of flooding in rivers. The same storage capacity also safeguards against drought. So, take this away, and what do you have left?
So, what are YOU going to do for wetlands this February? During your next holiday, why not book a wonderful lodge or hotel situated at a place of water and you will probably be in a wetland environment. Make time to take photographs and take note of what is living in this haven of biodiversity. Take time to imagine what life on Earth would be like without wetlands…
And then, contact us for you next wetland holiday destination!