The province of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina recently passed a law to protect an ecosystem thrice the size of London, and became the cause of celebration for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on World Wetlands Day 2023 on February 2. This day commemorates the signing of the Ramsar Convention.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of Ramsar sites. It is also known as the Convention on Wetlands and is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed in 1971.
As Sofia Heinonen (Director, Rewilding Argentina) told the World Economic Forum, this legislative protection of the Mitre Peninsula was a direct outcome of the culmination of 30 years of dedicated efforts by various local conservation organisations, scientists, and policymakers. At a time when the Earth is losing 5,00,000 hectares of its peatlands annually, this legal protection brings about a sigh of relief.
A site to have fascinated Charles Darwins during his maritime travels, Mitre Peninsula nurtures South America’s largest peatland complex as well as 30 per cent of the world’s underwater kelp forests, making it the largest carbon sink of Argentina. Emphasising on the importance of conservation of the region, he had said, “Yet if in any country a forest was destroyed, I do not believe so nearly so many species of animals would perish as would here, from the destruction of kelp.” (Source: Darwin, C. 1909. The Voyage of the Beagle. The Harvard Classics Volume 29. New York, USA: P.F. Collier & Son Company).
What are peatlands and how are they different from wetlands?
Wetlands, simply put, are regions either covered by water or surrounded by it. The presence of water around or over it could either be seasonal or continuous. There are multiple types of wetlands like coasts, lakes, deltas, peatlands, urban wetlands, arctic wetlands, and high altitude wetlands
A peatland is a specific type of a wetland ecosystem which comprises a thick layer of organic waste over its underlying soil due to the faster rate of decaying than decomposition. They act as reservoirs and prevent flooding while providing water during drought-like situations.
How does kelp forests help in carbon absorption?
Kelp forests are formed due to a dense growth of large brown algae named kelp, which grows in shallow waters closer to the shoreline and practically looks like a terrestrial forest. Enriching the waters with various nutrients, it attracts a huge diversity of maritime species. Since it relies on photosynthesis, it’s a highly efficient source of carbon absorption. And once it dies, it locks up the carbon in its tissues and buries it within the ocean floor.
India and its efforts in wetland conservation
India being a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, had designated 64 wetlands as ‘Wetlands of International Importance’ which span about 1.25 million hectares. Furthermore, in its 2023 Budget, India has introduced the Amrit Dharohar Scheme under which community participation will be seeked to enrich local wetland ecosystems by putting them to efficient and ideal use. Along with restoring India’s wetlands, it would also provide the inhabitants with an additional source of income.