Today’s factismal: It is World Wetland Day – have you hugged a duck?
Today marks the 45th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention. Held in Iran in 1971 this convention was all about protecting the wetlands. And in 1971, did they need protection! Though many in today’s world may not remember, the 1960s were known for a series of epic ecological disasters that fundamentally changed the way we look at our world. There was the Cuyahoga River, which was so polluted it caught on fire (thirteen times!). There was the Santa Barbara oil spill which spread 100,000 barrels of crude oil over the California coastline. (For comparison, the more recent Macondo blowout heaved out some 4,900,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.) There were so many pollutants in the Housatonic River that it changed color on a daily basis. In short, things were bad.
But instead of getting worse, things got better. They got better in part because a group of scientists and politicians came together in Iran, home to some 3.6 million acres of wetlands. For a month they worked together, putting the finishing touches on a treaty that they’d been working on since 1963. And on February 2, twenty-one countries signed it, putting some 72 million acres of wetlands under treaty protection. (That’s an area roughly the size of Arizona.) And more countries signed every year. In 1987, the USA joined the treaty, bringing the total area under protection to 160 million acres, or an area as large as California and Minnesota combined. Today there are some 169 countries that are signatories to the treaty, protecting more than 505 million acres of wetlands – or enough wetlands to cover all of Texas, California, Montana, New Mexico, Delaware, and Rhode Island! (Or roughly twice the total water area of the USA!) Thanks to that treaty, wetlands have become cleaner and our lives have gotten better.
Why should we care? Because wetlands are more than just wet. They are the places where new species thrive. They are the places where floods get controlled. They are the places that reduce the damage of hurricanes. And, most importantly, they are among the most biologically diverse places on Earth. So celebrate wetlands today. Go hug a duck!