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Biodiversity in focus on World Wetlands Day

Wetlands valued as global climate change mitigation hotspots
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A scientist wearing a hat, wraps a tape measure around a marked mangrove tree trunk and measures it
CIFOR scientist Daniel Murdiyarso explains how to place a dendrometer on trees in order to measure growth at a research site in Riau, Indonesia. CIFOR/Deanna Ramsay

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Healthy and diverse ecosystems, especially wetlands, are our life support, providing our water, food and underpinning economies, said Martha Rojas Urrego, secretary general of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, in a statement to mark World Wetlands Day on Sunday.

“They offer powerful solutions for health, poverty, climate change and sustainable development as a whole,” she said.

More than 35 percent of wetlands have been lost in under 50 years while 25 percent of wetland-dependent species, inland wetlands, and 23 percent in coastal and marine wetlands are globally threatened, according to data from the Ramsar Convention, a global intergovernmental treaty around which activities to conserve and restore wetlands take place.

“Crucially, it is time to acknowledge wetlands’ critical role for biodiversity – and the solutions they provide on climate change and sustainable development. It is time to fulfil commitments to stop the loss of the world’s wetlands,” Urrego said.

This year, the focus of World Wetlands Day is on protecting biodiversity.

Restoration activities are being carried out worldwide, according to the convention. In Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, more than 20,000 ha of peatlands were drained over the centuries to extract timber, restoration efforts are underway.

In Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, a 108,000 ha peatland ecosystem restoration project is underway, financed by the private sector, the convention states. Drainage ditches are being filled, logging is no longer taking place and landscape restoration activities are underway.

Wetlands include marshes, peatlands and saltwater mangroves, ecosystems which are the focus of studies by scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Indonesia, considered a leader in peatlands research, is part of the Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI) and is the founding country of the International Tropical Peatlands Center (ITPC), which includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo and Peru.

Peatlands provide a vital service to the planet. They store carbon, regulating climate, providing water for millions of people, preventing floods, droughts and providing food. They are estimated to contain almost double the amount of carbon stored in forests, although they cover only 3 percent of land surface.

Because these boggy areas are often perceived as wastelands, they are drained and used for various purposes. Dams, dikes and canals may be constructed to divert water to prepare the land for agriculture, livestock grazing or infrastructure development.

About 15 percent of peatlands have been drained. Although this is equivalent to less than 0.4 percent of global land surface, it contributes 5 percent of global human-made carbon dioxide emissions. To prevent further emissions, these areas must be re-wet.

Peatland drainage also results in the loss of fertile soil, soil subsidence and saltwater can penetrate coastal areas. Restoration efforts worldwide seek to restore drained peatlands to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions.

Mangroves, known as coastal blue carbon ecosystems alongside seagrasses and salt marshes, are recognized for their capacity to store large amounts of carbon and protect shorelines from erosion caused by rigorous ocean activity.

They also provide a buffer by capturing sediment high in organic carbon that can accumulate in tandem with sea level rise, according to research.

Like peatlands, they have a crucial role to play in global climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies — not only do they provide a wide range of ecosystem services, but research indicates they store higher amounts of carbon than other types of forests.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
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