THIS Sunday, February 2 will be recognised as World Wetlands Day -- the campaign day of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, more commonly called the Ramsar Convention.
Jamaica became a signatory to the intergovernmental treaty in 1998, pledging to maintain the ecological character of its Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the "wise use", or sustainable use, of its wetlands.
There are four such designated areas in the island: Black River Lower Morass in St Elizabeth; Mason River Protected Area, Bird Sanctuary and Ramsar Site in Clarendon and St Ann; the Palisadoes-Port Royal Protected Area in Kingston; and Portland Bight Wetlands and Cays in St Catherine and Clarendon. Together, they cover an area of 37, 847 hectares.
The Convention says "wetlands should be selected for the list on account of their international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology" and should be "of significant value not only for the country, or the countries, in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole".
"Joining the Convention," the Ramsar website explains, "signals a commitment on the part of the national government to work actively to support the three pillars of the Convention: 1) ensuring the conservation and wise use of wetlands it has designated as Wetlands of International Importance, 2) including as far as possible the wise use of all wetlands in national environmental planning, and 3) consulting with other Parties about implementation of the Convention, especially in regard to transboundary wetlands, shared water systems, and shared species."
But last week's confirmation by the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) that Goat Islands will be transformed into a transshipment port as part of Government's logistics hub initiative has raised questions about the relationship between Jamaica and the Ramsar secretariat.
Goat Islands is the name of two cays off the St Catherine coast which are part of the Portland Bight Wetlands. The PAJ has not yet given any details about the scope of the planned works, but environmentalists have argued that any large-scale port development in the area will destroy the ecosystem in Portland Bight, which is already threatened by over-fishing, improper sewage disposal, illegal harvesting of trees for charcoal, among other things.
This year, using the global theme "Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth", the National Environment and Planning Agency and environmental NGOs including the Jamaica Environment Trust, will host a week of activities to raise awareness of the value and benefits of wetlands.
They begin with a church service at Swallowfield United Chapel on Sunday and wrap up on Friday, February 7 with an Open Day at Swamp Safari, Black River, St Elizabeth. A series of educational sessions at schools in St Thomas is also planned.
"Wetlands are extremely valuable to society," NEPA told the Jamaica Observer. "They can decrease flooding, remove pollutants from water, recharge groundwater, protect shorelines, provide habitat for wildlife, and serve important recreational and cultural functions. Taken as a whole, it is estimated that the aggregate value of services generated by wetlands throughout the world is US$4.9 trillion per year."
World Wetlands Day 2014 provides the opportunity to discuss the impact of agriculture on wetlands and some of the successful methods used to reduce negative impacts, and sustain wetland health, the agency continued.
The Ramsar Convention was adopted on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. It has 168 parties or signatories around the world and 2,171 sites covering 207,291,271 hectares.