Restoring Earth’s Wetlands

World Wetlands Day 2023

“It’s Time for Wetlands Restoration!” – that is the theme of World Wetlands Day 2023, celebrated today, February 2, 2023. This year’s focus is therefore firmly on the urgent need to prioritize the restoration of these important ecosystems – especially since 35% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared in the last 50 years!

Of course, for those already actively involved in wetland restoration, EVERY day is World Wetlands Day. Take Dr. Kay Van Damme of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Freshwater Conservation Committee, for example. We previously reported on Kay’s important conservation work in Yemen’s Socotra Archipelago UNESCO World Heritage Site, a treasure trove of life located around 150 miles east of the Horn of Africa and 300 miles south of the Arabian Coast, in the Arabian Sea.

Through a small SSC Internal Grant to support his work on the island, local NGOs and conservationists have been busy continuing the activities started up in November last year: focusing on developing and holding awareness workshops on the importance of Socotra’s wetlands; implementing field surveys to collect data on the distribution of the island’s unique freshwater species and the threats affecting them; and cleaning up wetlands!

Specifically, local teams have been busy focusing their activities in the West of Socotra, at Detwah Lagoon, Yemen’s only Ramsar Site (the lagoon has been a Ramsar Site since 2007). A Ramsar site is a wetland designated as a Wetland of International Importance based on certain criteria set by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, was adopted as an international treaty on February 2, 1971, with this day now being marked annually as – you guessed it – World Wetlands Day. Apart from Detwah Lagoon, there are nearly 2,500 Wetlands of International Importance around the world, including 41 sites in the USA (such as the Niagara River corridor, Everglades National Park, and – more local to Indianapolis –  Chiwaukee Illinois Beach Lake Plain, on the south-western shore of Lake Michigan).

But back to Detwah Lagoon. The local events in Detwah, including the wetland clean-ups, were a great success, as expressed by the local communities who said this was the first, hopefully not the last, meeting of its kind to discuss the protection and challenges of Detwah Lagoon. These meetings have been attended primarily by representatives of local communities, including local women and youth who shared their ideas on the challenges as well as solutions in protecting a highly vulnerable wetland which is also an attractive tourism site (this in turn sometimes causes too much pressure on the lagoon). Notably, local decision-makers were also present in these multi-stakeholder meetings.

Today, conservationists in Socotra are rolling out brand new activities related to World Wetlands Day, focusing their celebrations of Socotra’s unique wetlands not just on Detwah Lagoon, but on wetlands in the eastern part of the island as well. The aim is to increase attention for the unique aquatic biodiversity in Socotra and the current challenges it faces. Under the auspices of the Governor of the Socotra Archipelago and the local Environmental Protection Authority, two indigenous NGOs in Socotra are organizing an awareness event on 2-3 Feb 2023, called “Save the Wetlands of Socotra – Celebration on the Occasion of World Wetlands Day”. This important event is one of over 420 events listed for World Wetlands Day 2023, and one of only three events held in the Arabian Peninsula.

The indigenous Socotri specialists organizing the event are Mr. Ahmed Saeed Suleiman (Ramsar representative for Yemen and representing the local Socotra Islands Foundation for the Environment and Sustainable Development), and Mr. Salem Hamdiah (Chairman of the local environmental NGO Socotra Society for the Conservation of Endangered Flora SSCEF). Both researchers have over two decades of expertise in biodiversity surveys and protected area management in Socotra and have a strong affection for the protection of aquatic wildlife and habitats. The event (2-3 Feb 2023) will take place in Hadiboh, the capital of Socotra, and nearby Sirihin Lagoon.

Although the lagoons of Hadiboh are listed as Important Bird Areas, they do not have any formal protection and fall outside of the UNESCO World Heritage Site core area; they are also not part of the National Park Area under the Socotra Conservation Zoning Plan. However, they are highly important for species such as rare birds and dragonflies, play an important role in fisheries, and attract ecotourists for birdwatching. Given the rapid expansion of Hadiboh, local conservationists such as Mr. Ahmed Saeed Suleiman and Mr. Salem Hamdiah, as well as the Governor of Socotra and the Environmental Protection Agency are concerned for the survival of these important wetlands and express concern about threats such as direct pollution, including oil spills.

World Wetlands Day events on Socotra include a series of presentations by the event organizers and other NGO representatives on the general importance of biodiversity conservation in Socotra, with an emphasis on aquatic ecosystems and their main threats; a discussion round on how to improve local wetland conservation; a field visit to and clean-up of Sirihin Lagoon; and inauguration of a sign at the lagoon to increase awareness regarding the importance of this threatened wetland. These activities will include local community representatives, local NGOs, decision makers, ecotourism guides, students and teachers (the presentations are held in one of the largest colleges on the island) and at least 70 people are expected to attend.

After the flurry of celebrations, the local team will continue their important work to survey the distribution and threats of several Socotran aquatic endemics (species found nowhere else in the world) which in turn will lead to updates of the IUCN Red List assessments for these species (e.g., Socotrapotamon and Azuragrion granti). And if you find yourself looking out over a wetland this World Wetlands Day – or hoping you would be looking out over one, rather than being cooped up indoors – spare a thought for the important, inspirational and hopeful work carried out on Socotra to protect, improve and restore local wetlands!

For updates on Kay’s important work on Socotra and the wonderful and unique species he finds there, follow @ProtectSpecies and @FW_conservation on Twitter. Images are courtesy of Kay Van Damme. 

This blog was a collaboration between experts with the IUCN SSC Freshwater Conservation Committee and the Global Center for Species Survival. 

Published February 2, 2023

Monika Böhm, Ph.D.

Dr. Monika Böhm is the Freshwater Conservation Coordinator for the Global Center for Species Survival.

Learn more about freshwater conservation and Monni.