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Croak if you like Wetlands

Thousands of birds prepare to migrate at Lake Myvatyn, Iceland's Ramsar Wetland
Lovely weather for ducks! It’s been raining solidly since I hung the washing out yesterday. Makes me think of wetlands, as does a photo my prospective daughter- in –law just took in her backyard.  Victoria and New South Wales are experiencing devastating floods. Ducks everywhere should be celebrating especially as they don't seem to have too many other things to quack about these days.

 I was going to write more on oceans today, but I have just found out that it was World Wetland Day on February 3rd. Bet you didn’t know that. I didn’t either, though I read many electronic newspapers.  Not even the BBC news mentioned it until Feb 23, and even then I missed it. One of the dangers of the electronic news is that it is very much tailored to what it thinks you are interested in.  It is true that I haven’t specifically clicked on wetlands for about ten years, but that doesn’t mean that they are not important, just that they are one of the orphan children of the  environmental movement. 

In the world beyond, swamps, marshes, reedbeds and mangroves were traditionally seen as something negative - places which bred mosquitoes, malaria or other nasties collectively referred to as miasmas. Consequently they were drained, filled in and developed as quickly as possible, usually long before we were aware of their usefulness. 

The Role of Wetlands in Nature

There are at least two main reasons for looking after our wetlands. Firstly, they are very rich in biodiversity. Secondly, they serve a number of valuable eco system functions.
Many of them are nesting places and breeding grounds for migratory birds and other species including fish and marine mammals.
Often they exist at the junction of several types of habitat – for example, where the sea meets the land  or where rivers meet plains, making them rich in species. For example, iSimaglioWetland Park in Africa, which has recently been listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO, lies between tropical and subtropical Africa, between the salt water of the Indian Ocean and freshwater rivers, and between forests and the savannah. As well as being a nesting site for thousands of pink flamingos, cranes, pelicans and herons, it is also home to nesting turtles, migratory whales and an abundance of dolphins.
Two other wetlands recently listed in Kazakhstan, are not only feeding grounds for over 15 million migratory birds on their way to or from Siberia, but they also contain a high proportion of the region’s flora and fauna, including many threatened species. 

A third new listing, the Wadden Sea between the Netherlands and Germany has also been set aside because it supports approximately 12 million migrating and nesting birds and a variety of marine mammals. It is also the last remaining large scale intertidal eco system in the region. [All these are listed on the UNESCO site where you can read about them in Russian, German, Spanish, and French].
According to the Earth Policy Institute, it is precisely from intertidal zones such as this, that most of our fish stocks come:

“Overfishing is not the only threat to the world’s seafood supply. Some 90 per cent of fish residing in the ocean rely on coastal wetlands, mangrove swamps, or rivers as spawning areas. Well over half of the mangrove forests in tropical and subtropical countries have been lost. The disappearance of coastal wetlands in industrial countries is even greater. In Italy, whose coastal wetlands are the nurseries for many Mediterranean fisheries, the loss is a whopping 95 per cent. “

Nature's Water Filter and Storage System

As well as being important for maintaining biodiversity, wetlands also play a major role in filtering and maintaining groundwater tables. By absorbing excess water at times of rain, more remains in the soil for plants which in turn provide more food for animals and humans. Wetlands also minimise rapid run –off, thereby helping to prevent erosion and the risk of flooding. Theirs is also a slow release mechanism, keeping surrounding areas moist and green, even when the rain has long gone.

The Threats

Unfortunately, wetlands around the world are at grave risk.  Already greatly depleted, development remains a major culprit. Pressure for housing, roads and sporting facilities, contribute to their ongoing destruction, so does tourism. So does water abstraction for agriculture and dams and so does pollution. Irrigation raises salinity and destroys delicate plant communities and those species which depend on them, frogs being a particular case in point.
Marshlands and Reedbeds, Iceland

In an article in the BBC Science News as far back as 2004, experts were warning that over 50% of wetlands in France, Greece, Italy and Spain had already been lost, and would decline further as tourist demand for golf courses and swimming pools increased. The article says that one golf course uses as much water as a city of 12,00 people.
Golf courses are also coming under fire in California which, according to Paul Preibisius in Force for Change has already lost 95% of its coastal wetlands. As Dr. Kerry Kriger, founder of Save The Frogs remarked :
"Golf is a game; it is not crucial to life on this planet, and there are over 10,000 golf courses in the USA. Wetlands however, are not a game; they are a matter of life or death for a large number of endangered species." 

Impact on Frogs and other Species

According to Save the Frogs, an amphibian conservation organization based in California, frogs are an important indicator of eco system health."Frog populations have been declining worldwide at unprecedented rates, and nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction. Up to 200 species have completely disappeared since 1980, and this is NOT normal: amphibians naturally go extinct at a rate of only about one species every 250 years!!! Amphibian populations are faced with an onslaught of environmental problems, including pollution, infectious diseases, habitat loss, invasive species, climate change, and over-harvesting for the pet and food trades. Unless we act quickly, amphibian species will continue to disappear, resulting in irreversible consequences to the planet’s ecosystems and to humans"
Nor are frogs the only species affected. According to Janet Larsen, Director of Research at the The Earth Policy Institute and co -author of The Earth Policy Reader, such transformations are also having an enormous impact on birds:
“Pollution poses an additional risk, affecting 12 per cent of the threatened bird species. In India, Gyps vulture populations have plummeted by 95 per cent in less than a decade, many poisoned by medicine used to treat the livestock they feed on. Populations of common Western European farmland birds dropped by 57 per cent between 1980 and 2003, with much of the decline attributed to the intensification of agriculture. In addition to direct poisoning from fertilizer and pesticide applications, runoff of chemicals contaminates the wetlands that migrating waterfowl rely on. Persistent organic pollutants, such as DDT residues, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls, accumulate in the food chain and can lead to deformities, reproductive failure, and disease in birds.”

In Sylvia Smith's BBC story about the Mediterranean Wetlands Conference, head of the organising committee, Tymio Pappayannis, said:
“Europe's economic crisis is forcing environmental concerns down the list of priorities. "Europe is pre-occupied with financial problems and the Euro," he explains. "But it is foolish to neglect a long term, co-ordinated policy towards water and wetland conservation. They are key to the future." 

With climate change looming as a further threat to these already troubled regions, along with other new activities such as fracking and mining for tar sands, which I will not even start on here, it is certainly time to hop to it and start signing those petitions. If the wetlands in your area are not being adequately protected, contact the relevant authority, or your elected representatives. If  they have special cultural values or biological value you could try having them UNESCO listed as Ramsar Wetlands, then they belong to the world, not just to a national government or country and don't forget to celebrate Save the Frogs Day on April 28th. You can Register your event here.


USA Urgent Action required on Protecting Water Quality!
Take Action: Tell Obama Not to Back Down on Protecting Our Waters SIGNATURES DUE FRIDAY!!!
Environment  (tags: water, Obama, sustainable, EPA, rivers, streams, wetlands, pollution, dumping


Here is the petition TO BAN THE EATING OF FROGS' LEGS, which has already contributed to extinctions in some countries
Atrazine has been banned in the EU since 2004. "Atrazine turns male frogs into females and eighty million pounds of it are used in the USA each year. SAVE THE FROGS! is working hard to get Atrazine federally banned and out of production in the USA.See also what it says about other chemicals such as Roundup.

In Tasmania, we are still allowing shooting of ducks in 5 of our six Ramsar listed Wetlands. This petition calls for hunting of wild birds to stop altogether. It has already been banned in other states - WA 1990, NSW 1995, QLD 2006, VIC 2008. Duck season starts on March 10. Please sign this petition now.

Other issues related to Wetland and Duck Hunting concern the residual effects of lead ammunition. A long list of sites follows, though I have not checked whether all these petitions on the Care2. website are current.
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Further Reading
Chapter 5: Natural Systems under Stress By Lester Brown