The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Monday called for greater commitment to protecting wetlands, which serve as a critical source not only of biodiversity but also sustainable livelihood for local communities.
In a statement, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje reminded the public that wetlands are a place of economic activity as people depend on them for food, housing and income, and thus these areas should be protected and preserved.
“The wise use and conservation of wetlands should be a major concern among Filipinos because these areas are not only home to many plants and animals but also to a lot of human communities,” Paje said as the country joins the celebration of the World Wetlands Day today.
“Wetlands provide economic benefits as a major source of employment for communities within and surrounding them,” he added.
The environment chief cited aquaculture, transportation, wastewater treatment, ecotourism, and community cottage industries as some of the forms of livelihood supported by wetlands.
He said wetlands also provide ecological benefits such as providing fresh water and food supply, habitats for biodiversity, protection against floods, and carbon sequestration, which are all essential in climate change adaptation and mitigation.
“Yet, many people are still unaware of these benefits and have the misconception of wetlands being wastelands,” Paje lamented.
“They give no second thought to the effects of overutilization and over-extraction of resources, land conversion and pollution that degrade these important ecosystems and cause them to eventually disappear,” he added.
Protecting and restoring wetlands are also embodied in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, he said.
The DENR, through its Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), has lined up various activities for this year’s local celebration of the World Wetlands Day, with the theme, “Wetlands for Our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods.”
The BMB has scheduled educational outreach to communities near Lake Canarem in San Jose, Tarlac. Field offices are also expected to do the same, including educational tours and lectures, in other wetlands across the country.
The bureau also encourages youth 15-24 years old to join the Wetland Youth Photo Contest sponsored by Ramsar, for a chance to win a free flight to a wetland location anywhere in the world.
Wetland sites in PH
Wetlands are areas permanently submerged with fresh, brackish or salty waters. Examples are lakes, marshes, swamps, peatlands, mangroves, coral reefs and even man-made wetlands like rice fields and reservoirs.
The country gives importance to wetlands as a contracting party of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, which provides a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
The convention was first adopted in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran, and currently has 166 contracting parties covering 2,226 wetland sites.
The Philippines has six Ramsar sites, namely: Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park, both in Palawan; Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Mindanao; Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu; Naujan Lake National Park in Mindoro Oriental; and the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area in Metro Manila.