World Wetlands Day - celebrating wetland biodiversity

02 February 2010 | News story

Today is World Wetlands Day – an opportunity to highlight the importance of wetlands, the biodiversity they contain, and the benefits that we gain from them. So what makes wetlands attract so much attention?

Wetlands – areas of marsh, fen, peatland and so on, are considered the most biologically-diverse of all ecosystems. According to IUCN’s Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, an estimated 126,000 described species rely on freshwater habitats, including species of fishes, molluscs, reptiles, insects, plants, and mammals. Almost 45% of all fishes live in freshwater and about 25% of all molluscs are freshwater species. An estimated 15,000 fish, 4,300 amphibians and 5,600 Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) depend on freshwater habitats.

Wetlands provide us with a wide range of services, many of which are essential to our survival. Recharging of groundwater reservoirs, water purification and waste treatment, flood control and storm protection, fisheries and recreational opportunities offered by wetlands are valued at US$14 trillion annually. But wetlands are extremely vulnerable to human activity. Agriculture, urban and industrial development, introduction of invasive species, pollution and over-exploitation all contribute to their ongoing degradation.

The theme of this year’s World Wetlands Days is ‘wetlands, biodiversity and climate change.’ Climate change is a growing threat to wetland biodiversity. Coastal wetlands such as salt marshes and mangroves are likely to be affected by sea level rise and increased damage from coastal flooding through storms and tidal surges will occur in many areas. At the same time, wetlands play an important role in helping us fight climate and adapt to its impacts by storing carbon and offering protection from sea level rise. 

Wetlands value
  • Intact mangroves in Thailand have a value of at least US$1,000 per hectare.
  • In Canada, areas of fresh water marsheshave an estimated value of US$ 5,800 per hectare.

Source: Ramsar

We all rely on wetlands in some way, but the poorest communities, particularly those whose survival depends on the food and water provided by wetlands, are most directly affected by the loss of wetland ecosystem services. 

Wetland species under threat
  • Waterbirds - Of the 1,138 waterbird populations
    whose trends are known, 41% are in
    decline.
  • Wetland-dependent mammals - 38% of the fresh water-dependent
    species that have been assessed are
    globally threatened.
  • Fresh water fish - 33% of the world’s fresh water fish
    species have been assessed as threatened.
  • Amphibians - 26% of the world’s fresh water amphibian
    species are considered threatened.
    - At least 42% of all amphibian species
    assessed are declining in population;
    less than 1% of species show population
    increases.

Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,
BirdLife International, Wetlands International

Learn more about IUCN’s work to conserve and manage wetland biodiversity from our Freshwater Biodiversity Unit.

The date of World Wetlands day commemorates the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Visit the website of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands to learn more about wetland biodiversity.