Linking actions for wetlands
Participants of the 8th WLI Conference enjoyed a day in the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park.
Wetlands are wonderful ecosystems. These inland waters act as buffers against strong winds from storms and flooding from heavy rain and sea level rise. Mangroves protect our coastlines and coastal communities from storm surges and contribute significantly to local food security. Peatlands such as those found in the Agusan Marsh are excellent carbon sinks, absorbing and storing about 30 per cent of the world’s land-based carbon.
The ASEAN region – composed of 10 ASEAN Member States – is blessed with close to two million square kilometres of inland waters and wetlands, making up 60 per cent and 42 per cent of the world’s tropical peatlands and mangrove forests. The ASEAN list of Ramsar sites, or internationally important wetlands being conserved and sustainably used, is growing, with more than 20 new designated sites over the past decade. At the moment, the ASEAN region has 59 Ramsar sites covering over 2.6 million hectares, and more sites for nomination.
These wetlands provide valuable ecosystem services that contribute to local and national economic development – from irrigated rice farming, water provision, energy sourcing, and tourism activities among others.
The protecting and healing roles of wetlands and inland waters were highlighted in the three-day 8th Wetlands Link International – Asia Conference in Las Piñas, Philippines on 26-29 July 2022. The conference convened the members of the Wetlands Link International (WLI) to share information on the various education efforts and discuss network activities. The Society for the Conservation of Philippine Wetlands Inc (SCPW), a partner of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) in wetland conservation, co-organised the conference along with the Ramsar Regional Center-East Asia (RRC-EA).
‘Cradle of biodiversity’
Las Piñas City hosts the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park, one of the Philippines’ eight Ramsar sites. With more than 300 inland wetlands, some experts consider the whole Philippine archipelago as a wetland. As part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway or EAAF, the wetlands in the country serve as staging grounds for more than 700 species of birds, about 250 of which are migratory waterbirds that pass by the flyway during the winter months in the northern and southern hemispheres. Various marine species such as dugongs, sharks, and marine turtles and endangered endemic species like the Philippine cockatoo, and the Philippine crocodile benefit from these vital ecosystems.
At the opening of the 19th Congress, Philippine Senator Cynthia Villar filed Senate Bill 134 or the National Wetland Conservation Bill which aims to “guide all the concerned national government agencies and the local government units to adjust the policies to be consistent with wetland conservation.”
“With this bill, we hope to improve the efforts in raising awareness on the role of wetlands as the cradle of biodiversity,” said Sen. Villar, who hails from Las Piñas and a staunch advocate of wetland conservation. “In the Philippines, much work is needed to be done to give our wetlands the care and support they deserve.”
Learning and healing with nature
According to the organisers, the conference’s theme Healing with Nature – Wetlands and Wetland Centres in Focus highlights “the benefits of wetland ecosystems to human health and the role of wetland centres in promoting health and well-being of people.” As mobility restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic are slowly relaxing, there is an eagerness to go outdoors and reconnect with nature. As visitor numbers to nature tourism sites grow anew, there is a favourable opportunity to raise further awareness on wetlands and the pressing need to conserve biodiversity.
Speakers representing various wetland centres and environmental conservation organisations from Australia, India, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, the UK and the US shared their initiatives in educating the public in the importance of wetlands and their conservation.
Aside from the sharing of environmental education initiatives and other communication, education and public awareness (CEPA) activities, there were also presentations on wetland centres designs that show how nature is being incorporated in the architectural layout to further enhance the appreciation of the healing character of wetlands and nature as a whole.
The power of storytelling
It is worth noting that majority of these centres focus on engaging the schoolchildren and young people through a variety of interesting activities such as storytelling, wetland walks and colourful informational materials to pique their interest in nature and biodiversity. As one of the speakers from Sri Lanka said, conservation begins in cultivating love and appreciation for nature at a young age.
In her keynote message, ACB Executive Director Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim shared some of the ACB’s work in conservation, which includes further enhancing the communication and education efforts in the region, through the Young ASEAN Storytellers (YAS) programme. The initiative mobilised 20 talented young content creators to explore various ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs) and craft stories of conservation through photos, videos, music, poetry, and other forms of media. Lim said that the ACB hopes to reach a wider public and amplify the call for conservation through this initiative.
The ACB likewise supports select wetland protected areas in the ASEAN region in terms of capacity development, livelihood support, and law enforcement through various programmes and projects such as the AHP Programme, the ASEAN Flyway Network (AFN), and various CEPA activities both online and offline. AHP and AFN sites such as Indawgyi Wetland, Inlay Lake, Meinmahla Kyun in Myanmar, and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore are members of WLI-Asia, and the wetland education centres in these sites play a significant role in conservation and management, capacity building, and CEPA.
“As the world continues to grapple with climate, environmental, and health crises, we all turn to nature as crucial solutions to enhancing protection and building resilience,” Lim said. “We must act decisively and with urgency if we are to reverse the impacts of these ecological challenges.”
Lim noted that the ACB’s partnership with the Ramsar Convention will provide valuable opportunities to further fortify the ASEAN’s efforts on the sustainable and wise use of wetlands, most especially in light of the upcoming 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (COP14) in November, and the Fifteenth Meeting of the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15).
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the WLI-Asia and WLI-Oceania merging the two regional formations as WLI Asia-Oceania which will increase opportunities for learning, exchange, and collaboration. The WLI Conference was attended by around 70 participants from Asia, Oceania, the UK, and the US.