Here at TWI we celebrate wetlands every day of the year, but February 2 is an opportunity for everyone to raise a glass of water to wetlands and the valuable ecosystem services they provide for people and the environment.
World Wetlands Day marks the anniversary of the establishment of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in Ramsar, Iran, on February 2, 1971. Known as the Ramsar Convention, it’s an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It’s the oldest of the modern global intergovernmental environmental agreements and today 169 nations including the Unites States are contracting parties to the agreement.
Each year for World Wetlands Day, Ramsar chooses a theme that highlights the importance of wetlands. For 2016 it’s Sustainable Livelihoods. As Ramsar explains, “All of us depend on wetlands to supply fresh water for our daily needs, but more than one billion people around the world depend directly on wetlands to earn an income. . . . For these people, healthy wetlands are essential for their livelihoods and vital for their well-being.”
For World Wetlands Day, the Ramsar website provides a wealth of materials for teachers and others that explore how healthy wetlands enable so many people to make a living, from fishing to transportation to tourism. Ramsar is also sponsoring a wetlands photo contest for young people ages 15 to 24, and photos can be submitted online from February 2 to March 2, 2016.
First and foremost, Ramsar encourages everyone to visit a wetland near them for World Wetlands Day and experience their riches firsthand. For those of you in northern Illinois, TWI’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes is open every day of the year for hiking and birdwatching, and it also happens to be one of only 38 Ramsar-designated Wetlands of International Importance in the United States, including the Florida Everglades and the San Francisco Bay and Estuary. One of the main reasons for its designation is its remarkable number of bird and plant species.
For Chicagoland residents, the mosaic of prairies and wetlands at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Joliet—where TWI has been a restoration partner with the U.S. Forest Service for more than 15 years—will give you a sense of the Prairie State’s original landscape, complete with bison.
Wherever you find yourself this World Wetlands Day, take a few moments to consider everything that wetlands do beyond providing great opportunities for recreation. They clean water, support high biodiversity, reduce flooding, moderate climate change, and—as Ramsar is emphasizing this year—contribute to healthy economies.
And here at TWI on February 2 we’ll be doing what we do every day: restoring Illinois’ lost wetlands.