ANALYSIS World Wetlands Day
February saw the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands celebrate its annual World Wetlands Day.
Secretary General Christopher Briggs explains the history of the event and the activities they have
undertaken this year to further highlight the integral multifunctional role of wetlands
World Wetlands Day is celebrated annually on 2 February. Could you
explain why this event was initiated and the significance of the date?
The first discussion relating to the event took place in November
1996 when one member country of the Ramsar Convention stated its
intention to hold a World Wetland Week in 1997 to help raise awareness
of the Convention. This took place during a meeting of our Standing
Committee; after much debate the decision was taken that it would be
more practical for an international Convention to designate a World
2 February – the date in 1971 when an agreement was reached to
form the Convention on Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar – was
subsequently suggested. Although Northern Hemisphere member
countries argued that this was a rather inhospitable time of year
for celebrating wetlands, agreement was eventually reached. World
Wetlands Day was born in 1997 and has been celebrated every year with
growing enthusiasm and much appreciated funding support from the
2014 marks the UN’s International Year of Family Farming. How is
this year’s event helping to shape a better-informed perception of
wetlands and their role within agricultural contexts?
The theme this year has allowed us to focus on the links between
agriculture and wetlands. We often hear of water shortages threatening
the capacity of developing countries to provide enough food for their
growing populations. We are also regularly reminded that climate change
is making this problem worse, yet how often do the people raising these
water issues talk about wetlands?
One of the key World Wetlands Day messages this year is that wetlands
are the world’s water carriers and critically support agriculture. Another
message is that using too much water for agriculture or polluting water
with pesticides and fertilisers puts at risk the many other benefits that
wetlands provide to support people and wildlife. The theme has allowed
us to draw attention to local agricultural practices, which work to sustain
these other important services.
What are the core activities of World Wetlands Day 2014?
At the Ramsar Secretariat in Switzerland, our job is to launch a global
campaign that triggers the interest of people around the world and
56 INTERNATIONAL INNOVATION
results in local and national action to celebrate the beauty and value
of wetlands. These people range from Ramsar government contacts to
NGOs, wetland education centres, teachers, schools and universities; and
we encourage them to use our online reporting system to record their
activities. We’ve also been tracking items in newspapers and on social
media. You can find more information about this on our website.
We also find that organisations use World Wetlands Day as an
opportunity to launch campaigns of their own: this year a group of
international NGOs, including the International Union for Conservation
of Nature, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and others, launched
a citizen science initiative, the Global Freshwater Fish BioBlitz, to gather
information on the fish species people see in their local wetlands to
better understand their distribution. One of our partners for World
Wetlands Day this year, the International Water Management Institute,
campaigned to promote agricultural practices that can support and
sustain healthy wetlands.
You attended your first World Wetlands Day event as Secretary
General this year. Can you share your impressions of this
It was a great pleasure to meet a diverse group of people at the event
in Bolivia, all with the ability to have a positive impact on wetland
conservation – diplomats, representatives from cooperation agencies,
Bolivian Government officials and NGOs.
Last year Bolivia designated three new Ramsar Sites covering 6.9 million
hectares, all which are located in the Amazon basin, one of the world’s
most famous wetlands. With the addition of these new sites, Bolivia now
has the largest area of Ramsar Sites of our 168 member countries, with
14.8 million hectares designated (13 per cent of the entire country). It
was my pleasure to present our Bolivian colleagues with certificates in
recognition of this achievement and it was gratifying to see the President
of WWF present the Bolivian Government with a prestigious Gift to the
Earth certificate for the protection of such a significant area of the Amazon.
Could you highlight the broader importance and value of wetlands?
If we consider the Ramsar definition of wetlands – lakes, rivers, ponds,
mangroves, saltmarshes and coral reefs, etc. – we can say with certainty
that wetlands are key to the global water cycle. We have often used
the slogan ‘No wetlands – no water’ to reflect this key role. A recent