We commemorate World Wetlands Day on February 2, each year to mark the birthday of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. This is an international environment agreement that now has 168 contracting parties, with 2,170 Wetlands of International Importance covering over 207 million hectares worldwide. Currently, Pacific Islands Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention are Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau and Samoa. T h i s y e a r ’ s theme is Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth. As the region’s lead environment and conservation organisation, SPREP believes that recognition of such partnerships is imperative if our small islands are to realise their vision of a sustainable Pacific—one where we are able to sustain our livelihoods while maintaining harmony with the natural environment and our cultures. Wetlands have long been the basis on which civilisations were formed and cultures nurtured because of their ability to provide the key resource, or ecosystem services necessary for cultivating large quantities of food (consider the Nile River in Egypt, the Tigris-Euphrates system in Mesopotamia and the Ganges River in India). Closer to home, in the Pacific islands, floodplains along riverbanks, rivers and streams, marshy swamps, lakes, estuaries and tidal flats as well as mangroves and coral reefs have traditionally provided communities with fertile soil, water, plants, animals and other resources necessary to maintain food security and improve livelihoods.
Many of our cultural practices are also based on plants and animals that we obtain from the wetlands. Today, as we struggle with providing adequate and nutritious food to our planet’s growing population, the search for more agricultural land (including space for aquaculture) also grows. Draining, reclaiming and otherwise converting wetlands has become a convenient approach to accessing highly fertile land with easy access to water.
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