A flock of pink flamingos grazing on a lake
The Anzali wetland, in northern Iran, is a site of international importance for breeding, staging and wintering waterbirds. Unfortunately, the massive spread of the exotic fern Azola is suppressing native flora, an essential food for waterbirds.
Photo:Ramsar/Hitoshi Watanabe

Wetlands Action for People and Nature

Wetlands are ecosystems where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. A broad definition of wetlands includes both freshwater and marine and coastal ecosystems such as all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fishponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and saltpans.

These lands are critical to people and nature, given the intrinsic value of these ecosystems, and their benefits and services, including their environmental, climate, ecological, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic contributions to sustainable development and human wellbeing.

Though they cover only around 6 per cent of the Earth’s land surface, 40 per cent of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands. Wetland biodiversity matters for our health, our food supply, for tourism and for jobs. Wetlands are vital for humans, for other ecosystems and for our climate, providing essential ecosystem services such as water regulation, including flood control and water purification. More than a billion people across the world depend on wetlands for their livelihoods – that’s about one in eight people on Earth.

Why they are in danger

Wetlands are among the ecosystems with the highest rates of decline, loss and degradation. Indicators of current negative trends in global biodiversity and ecosystem functions are projected to continue in response to direct and indirect drivers such as rapid human population growth, unsustainable production and consumption and associated technological development, as well as the adverse impacts of climate change.

Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests and are Earth’s most threatened ecosystem. In just 50 years — since 1970 — 35% of the world’s wetlands have been lost. Human activities that lead to loss of wetlands include drainage and infilling for agriculture and construction, pollution, overfishing and overexploitation of resources, invasive species and climate change.

This vicious cycle of wetland loss, threatened livelihoods, and deepening poverty is the result of mistakenly seeing wetlands as wastelands rather than lifegiving sources of jobs, incomes, and essential ecosystem services. A key challenge is to change mindsets to encourage governments and communities to value and prioritize wetlands.

Mangrove illustration

How do wetlands combat climate change?

Wetlands are a natural solution to the era-defining global threat of climate change. They absorb carbon dioxide so help slow global heating and reduce pollution, hence have often been referred to as the “Kidneys of the Earth”. Peatlands alone store twice as much carbon as all the world's forests combined. But, when drained and destroyed, wetlands emit vast amounts of carbon.

Wetlands also provide a buffer against the impacts of floods, droughts, hurricanes and tsunamis, and build resilience to climate change.

What we can do

It is urgent that we raise national and global awareness about wetlands in order to reverse their rapid loss and encourage actions to conserve and restore them. World Wetlands Day is the ideal time to increase people’s understanding of these critically important ecosystems.

“Wetlands Action for People and Nature” is the theme for 2022 highlighting the importance of actions to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands for human and planetary health.

An urgent call to take action and to invest financial, human and political capital is this year's appeal to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing altogether — and to restore those we have already lost.

Wetlands and the SDGs

Ilustración de un manglarHealthy wetlands are essential to achieving the following Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 6, which focuses on ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, and its target 6.6, which seeks to protect and restore water-related ecosystems; Goal 14, on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, including its target 14.2, which seeks to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems; and Goal 15, related to life on land, and its target 15.1, which seeks to ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services.

 

Background

On 30 August 2021, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2 February as World Wetlands Day to raise awareness of the urgency of reversing the accelerating loss of wetlands and to promote their conservation and restoration. The day marks the date of the adoption of the "Convention on Wetlands of International Importance" held in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Through the designation of protected areas, the implementation of effective policies, and the sharing of knowledge, the Convention enables countries to take measures to protect their wetlands and to use them wisely. Adopted by 172 countries, each country joining the Convention must designate at least one wetland to be included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites).

 

Ilustración de una manos sosteniendo el Planeta Tierra rodeado de animales

Value, Manage, Restore, and of course — Love — Wetlands

If we are to inspire action, we also must ignite greater empathy for these rapidly disappearing ecosystems. Posters and other outreach materials are available here to help you spread the word.

Did you know?

  • Though they cover only around 6 per cent of the Earth’s land surface, 40 per cent of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands.
  • Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests.
  • Coastal wetlands sequester and store carbon up to 55 times faster than tropical rain forests.
  • Rice, grown in wetland paddies, is the staple diet of 3.5 billion people.

Preserving wetlands with water lilies

Two men with a fishing net on the shores of a wetland

There are currently over 2,400 Ramsar Sites around the world. They cover over 2.5 million square kilometers, an area larger than Mexico. The network of Ramsar Sites includes coastal and inland wetlands of all types. The Convention on Wetlands works to reverse wetland loss and degradation worldwide. Discover more about these fascinating places and how we can take action to protect our wetlands.

Mangroves

Targeted trainings are turning youth into powerful ambassadors for biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, spurring action to protect the unique Guatemalan wetlands. Located in the Escuintla district on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast, the wetlands around Sipacate-Naranjo are treasured conservation areas. They have a variety of ecosystems including mangroves, which are key nurseries for aquatic species and fundamental to the local economy. Take a look at how UNDP Guatemala is involving youth to #ActForWetlands.

illustration of people with clock, calendar, to-do list and decorations

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.