Saturday, 04 February 2012 17:14 /Dr. Filiberto Pollisco Jr. / Special to the BusinessMirror
Wetlands are areas where water primarily controls the environment and its associated flora and fauna. They serve as a habitat for myriad plants and animals, including many endangered and threatened species.
The presence or absence of water in wetlands during seasonal changes impacts considerably on the life cycle of native organisms. Scientists now realize the value of this ecosystem in moderating global climate, as it naturally stores carbon within plant communities and the soil.
Due to an increasing awareness and understanding of the wetlands’ multiple roles and benefits to humanity, national and global initiatives have been intensified to restore the lost or degraded hydro-biological functions of wetlands.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention) of 1971 has set the stage for globally recognizing the value of the wetlands ecosystem. The Ramsar Convention is “an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member-countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the wise use, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.”
In the Asean region, eight of the 10 member-states are parties to the Ramsar Convention and have given due recognition to the special attributes of wetlands.
From 26 Ramsar sites in 2005, three more wetlands from Malaysia and Indonesia were added to the list. As of 2008, Ramsar sites within the Asean member-states numbered up to 29, with a total area of 13,204 square kilometers (sq km).
Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines are the top three countries with the most number of Ramsar sites in the region. In terms of total area, however, Indonesia has the largest, at 6,565 sq km; followed by Thailand with 3,706 sq km; and Malaysia with 1,342 sq km.
Through the years, the establishment of Ramsar sites has been sporadic. Southeast Asia began establishing Ramsar sites from a total of 120 sq km in 1988 to 1,627 sq km in 1992. A lull in establishing new sites was experienced from 1995 to 1998, during which only a mere 5 sq km were additionally recognized.
From 1999 to 2008, Southeast Asia increased its Ramsar sites to 29, covering a total of 13,000 sq km.
Wetlands in the Asean region are under extreme pressure by factors originating from human activities. Urban expansion, wetlands conversion, pollution, sedimentation and siltation are among the most common factors affecting wetland ecosystems.
Global warming and climate change have become the immediate global threat. Changing climate patterns have reduced rainfall in many wetlands, resulting in lower water levels, even to the point of parchment of some areas.
Other areas experience excessive rainfall, resulting in higher water levels and flooding.
Either way, the life cycles and reproductive patterns of many organisms are affected.
In higher latitudes in Asia, the migration of avifauna has been commencing uncharacteristically earlier, and the early onset of reproduction has, likewise, been observed. The timing of the nesting season vis-à-vis the period of food availability is also becoming a problem for more and more species.
Still, the largest threat to the resilience of intertidal wetlands to climate change is the presence of barriers that would prevent its landward migration. Barriers to the landward migration of intertidal communities may be imposed by natural features (e.g., steep slopes).
However, urbanization, agriculture and other human activities that build berms, bunds, seawalls and roads on coastal plains impose significant threats on intertidal communities such as mangroves, salt marshes and salt flats. Barriers also reduce connectivity between ecosystems and overall productivity.