Marakele National Park, outside of Thabazimbi together with Biodiversity Special Programme (BSP) in the park celebrated world wetlands day on Friday 03 February. The event, celebrated under the theme “Wetlands for disaster risk reduction” focused on raising public awareness on direct and indirect benefits of wetlands in particular the role that they play in disaster risk reduction, and their benefits to humanity.
Wetlands day marks the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance on 2 February 1971. On this day, people around the world, come together to celebrate WWD with the aim of creating and raising public awareness on the value of wetlands and its vital link to human well-being.
This year’s theme was selected to demonstrate the impact of natural disasters on natural ecosystems.
It further highlights the vital roles of healthy wetlands in reducing the impacts of extreme events such as floods, droughts and cyclones on communities, and in helping to build resilience. The Park employees gathered in the Environmental Education Centre where they exchanged knowledge and information and further visited the Matlabas wetland situated in the eastern side of the Park.
South Africa is a water scarce country, and the water in many streams is polluted. Both droughts and floods are common. In this regards, wetlands play a vital role by removing toxic substances and sediment from water, while also improving downstream water quality and the overall health of communities.
Wetlands are able to reduce the severity of droughts and floods by regulating stream flow. They also help to purify water and provide habitat for many different plants and animals. Besides these indirect benefits to society, wetlands provide many direct benefits in the form of resources such as fibre for making crafts as well as recreational opportunities. However lack of community awareness on the value and benefits of wetlands often leads to their transformation by humans.
Wetlands also produce goods that have a significant economic value such as clean water, fisheries, timber, peat, wildlife resources and tourism opportunities.
The loss and degradation of wetlands is driven by several factors. Important wetland functions include water storage, groundwater recharge, storm protection, flood mitigation, shoreline stabilization, erosion control, and retention of carbon, nutrients, sediments and pollutants.
Increased demand for agricultural land associated with population growth continues to be a significant cause of wetland loss in some parts of the world.
Main photograph: Steven Khoza, Bio-technician – Scientific services at Marakele, explains the different types of wetlands, and how to identify a wetland to the beneficiaries