Love Our Wetlands (Or Else!)-A A +A
By Betsy Gazo
Saturday, October 19, 2013
PARDON me, but I’ve never heard of Ramsar until Dr. Lisa Paguntalan, an ornithologist and the Director for Field Operations
of the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., invited me to have lunch with Ramsar’s Senior Advisor for Asia-Oceania Dr. Llewelyn Young. Switzerland-based Dr. Young of Hong Kong visited Negros Occidental particularly the San Enrique to Ilog areas to appraise these for possible certification as a Ramsar site.
And just what is Ramsar? Ramsar is an Iranian City where an intergovernmental treaty was signed. The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance a.k.a. the Ramsar Convention, “provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.” The treaty was adopted in 1971 and was enforced in 1975. The agreement came into being after countries and non-governmental organizations were concerned at the rate the wetland habitat for migratory waterbirds were decreasing. The Ramsar is the only global environmental treaty that focuses on a specific ecosystem.
The Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.
“Wetlands’ according to the Convention’s definition include lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.
In the List of Wetlands of International Importance, included are 6 from the Philippines, i.e. Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Mindanao (Ramsar Site No. 1009), Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area or LPPCHEA (Ramsar Site No. 2124), Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro (Ramsar Site No. 1008), Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu (Ramsar Site No. 656), Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Ramsar Site No. 2084), and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Ramsar Site No. 1010).
There are 2,165 sites in 168 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe covering 205,830,125 hectares. Dr. Young stated that “the Philippines has many, many wetland sites.” Sustainable management is the factor that can make a site qualified for a Ramsar. The agreement to sustainably manage the prospective sites in Negros is between the local fishermen and the local government. Dr. Lisa said, “We have globally threatened/rare species in this area. As long as the locals and the government can agree on how big the site is and assure its protection, we have a good chance of becoming a Ramsar site.” These areas are replete with mangroves, fish, 30 species of shellfish (“such a huge diversity of shellfish”), and birds from China, Siberia, as far as Alaska, making them key wintering areas for migratory birds.
While marshes in the Philippines and in other countries are considered undesirable real estate properties and have developers filling them up, wetlands can actually increase the value of land around it. Residents can, in fact, enjoy unmitigated pleasure communing with nature. Sri Lanka even digs up ponds in Colombo -- formerly marshes -- to avoid flooding. The Sri Lankan government realized that they need these marshes again.
In our country, the importance of our sites can never be discounted. Let me narrate how important they are. The Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary acts as a storage for rainwater and decreases downward flow of water into Butuan City and other population centers. It supports a very large area of swamp forest and a peat swamp forest not found anywhere else in the country. High silt load from deforestation is an ongoing problem. The LPPCHEA is the habitat of the vulnerable Philippine Duck that is the most important of its resident bird species. Waste from cities accumulating on the coast, heavy metals, land reclamation projects and mangrove cutting threaten the LPPCHEA. Lake Naujan, the fifth largest lake in the Philippines, sustain the people living around it. It is also an important feeding and wintering site for ducks and other waterbirds. It is also home to the rare Plain swamphen (Amaurornis olivaceous), as well as an endemic species of freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis). The Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary is the most important site in the Philippines for the rare waterbird species Asiatic Dowitcher. This is one of the most important areas in the country for significant numbers of migratory waterbirds, providing habitat for staging, wintering, roosting and feeding birds. At one time, over 10,000 shorebirds have been recorded.
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park carry the distinguished title of also being World Heritage Sites and are the country’s pride for their biological richness. Getting approval to become a Ramsar Site is similar to being labeled a World Heritage Site. We in Negros hope to be honored with such a label and add to the Ramsar Site list since our country’s natural resources have the potential to be included therein. Our 6 sites have a total of 154,409 hectares.
How many sites do other countries have? Australia has 65, Argentina and Algeria 50 sites each, Bahamas has 1, Canada has 37, while China has 45. The United States has a good number – 35, but the United Kingdom boasts of 169 sites. Mexico’s 8,833,094 hectares sustains 139 sites and South Korea holds 18 in 17,704 hectares.
Wetlands are important for global biological diversity and for sustaining human life. They are closely linked with agriculture so that 2014 is the UN International Year of Family Farming and the Ramsar Convention chose Wetlands & Agriculture as the World Wetlands Day theme for 2014. We work with nature so that nature can continue to nurture us. For more information, go to www.ramsar.org.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on October 19, 2013.