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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

World Wetlands Day 2012: Are Wetlands in Peril?!

By: Nicole La Force

Every 2nd of February commemorates “World Wetlands Day” and this year’s theme is: “Wetland Tourism: A great experience”. The fact that tourism is our main foreign exchange earner contributing 30% to our GDP, the potential of wetlands as a great tourism product cannot be overlooked. Responsible tourism supports wetlands and people.

Wetlands which includes; marshes, swamps, peatlands, mangroves etc. are critical habitats to a wide variety of biodiversity including waterbirds. It is important to note that wetlands also provide a host of ecosystem services that directly benefit people and local communities. For example wetlands are great recreational sites for fishing, bird watching, relaxation, research and don’t forget a natural nursery for the breeding and spawning of many fish. Without wetland save havens many species of fish can become extinct and the fishing industry of many countries can be crippled.

In St. Lucia there are two Ramsar sites; the Makoté Mangrove and Savannes Bay in Vieux Fort. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty devoted to the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. This treaty was adopted and signed by 18 countries in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Today with over 160 countries the Convention's member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet.

The convention on wetlands came into force for St. Lucia on June 19th, 2002 where two (2) Ramsar sites designated as wetlands of International Importance with a surface area of 85 hectares were selected. These include the Makoté Mangrove in Vieux Fort, an area of 60 hectares which is a vital nursery for the local fishery as well as a charcoal production resource. The other is the Savannes Bay area comprising of 25 hectares of mangrove forest, sea grass beds and coral reef. Other beautiful and important wetland areas in St. Lucia include Boriel's Pond and La Tourney wetlands all in Vieux Fort.

The Forestry Department is urging everyone to help safeguard our mangroves and other wetland areas. How? Don’t litter, don’t pollute our rivers and waterways with harmful chemicals which contaminate our wetlands. Don’t cut down and destroy our mangroves for what passes as development.

The potential of our wetlands as a tourism product has not been fully realized. There’s the need for their protection and sustainable management for the betterment, not only of the plant and animal species which inhabits such ecosystems but for the country and especially the people of communities adjacent to these wetland areas.

Together let’s do the right thing and protect our wetlands for by so doing we are safeguarding our own future.