Protection and wise use of our wetlands
Two days ago, Feb. 2, we celebrated the World Wetlands Day. As defined by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, known as the Ramsar Convention, wetlands are “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.”
Wetlands may also “incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands.” They are generally of five types: marine (coastal wetlands including coastal lagoons, rocky shores, and coral reefs); estuarine (including deltas, tidal marshes, and mangrove swamps); lacustrine (wetlands associated with lakes); riverine (wetlands along rivers and streams); and palustrine (meaning “marshy” – marshes, swamps and bogs). (http://www.ramsar.org (FAQs))
The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty providing the framework for national action and international cooperation in the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. “Wise use” means “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development.”
The country presently has five sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance. They host various species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species and play important ecological, economic, cultural and social significance in the lives of the people in the surrounding communities. These are:
1. Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Mindanao, which “acts as storage for rain water and reduces the downstream flow of flood water into Butuan City and other population centers. The marsh supports the largest expanses left in the Philippines of seven habitat types and includes a very large area of swamp forest and a peat swamp forest not found anywhere else in the country. High silt loads caused by deforestation and other activities in the catchment are a continuing problem.”
2. Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro has 14 species of fish and is an important feeding or wintering area for large numbers of ducks and other waterbirds such as herons, egrets, rails, and bitterns and endemic species of freshwater crocodile.The people in the area depend upon the lake for their livelihood, particularly through fishing; the population is composed of the indigenous peoples of Mindoro. Aside from fishing it also provides water for drinking, laundry, bathing,and irrigation. The lake has great beauty and potential for ecotourism.
3. Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in our dear Cebu is “a low-lying island surrounded by extensive intertidal sandflats, mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs and islets. One of the most important areas in the country for significant numbers of migratory waterbirds, providing habitat for staging, wintering, roosting and feeding birds. Over 10,000 shorebirds have been recorded at one time, with total numbers approaching 50,000. The most important site in the Philippines for the rare waterbird species Asiatic Dowitcher. Inhabitants are dependent on coastal resources: harvesting sea urchins, fish and commercial shells, for their livelihood.”
4. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, in Palawan National Park, is a “National Geological Site, ASEAN Heritage Park, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. Located on the island of Palawan, the site is unique in the biogeographic region because it connects a range of important ecosystems from the mountain-to-the-sea, including a limestone karst landscape with a complex cave system, mangrove forests, lowland evergreen tropical rainforests, and freshwater swamps. It is home to about 800 plant and 233 animal species…There are also some 15 endemic species of birds..The site is a major ecotourism destination, and community-based sustainable ecotourism has been initiated to involve the local communities in Park management as well as to generate income.”
5. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is “a National Marine Park and World Heritage Site, located in the centre of the Sulu Sea. This wetland is an example of an ecosystem with near pristine coral reefs having high diversity with at least 359 species of corals (equivalent to about 80 percent of all coral species in the Philippines), 600 species of fish, 7 species of seagrass, 13 species of sharks and two species of marine turtles. . . this biogeographic region has one of the highest coral diversity in the world harbouring threatened species … and serves as an important source and sink for not only coral larvae but also fish and other marine species…Threats to the site include, plans for oil exploration in the Sulu Sea, illegal harvesting of Topshell and introduction of invasive plant species.” (http://www.ramsar.org/cda/en/ramsar-documents-list-anno-philippines/main/ramsar/1-31-218%5E16085_4000_0__)
The tragic and preventable damage inflicted last Jan. 19 by a United States war vessel upon 4,000 square meters of corals in the Tubbataha Reefs National Park highlights the numerous and continuing threats and dangers that wetlands and the species dependent on them including humanity face. These include coastal development and conversion such as devastating reclamation projects, pollution, and over-exploitation of resources. In the face of climate change, loss of biodiversity and stress upon life sources, it is costly to pretend that that we are not dependent on wetlands for our water, food, livelihood and the invaluable services that they provide such as filtration of impurities, carbon sinks and as essential link to our heritage.
The National Wetlands Action Plan, which only a handful know about, should be integrated in the planning and implementation of policies, projects and programs of both national and local governments and the other stakeholders, and specifically in the National Land Use Plan Act which the President has certified as urgent.
The protection and wise use of wetlands is not an option, but should be everyone’s choice for a sustainable tomorrow.
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