The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty adopted on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, the Convention entered into force in 1975 and covers all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use recognising wetlands as ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity conservation in general and for the well-being of human communities.
Wetlands are areas where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. They occur where the water table is at or near the surface of the land, or where the land is covered by shallow water. The Ramsar Convention takes a broad approach in determining the wetlands which come under its aegis. Under the text of the Convention (Article 1.1), wetlands are defined as: “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres”. In addition, the Convention (Article 2.1) provides that wetlands: may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands”.
Barbados has been a Party to the Ramsar Convention since April 12th 2006 and as the Management Authority and Focal Point for the Convention the Ministry of Environment and Drainage is required to facilitate the development, at national level of policies and actions that help manage Barbados’ use of our wetland resources.
Barbados has already designated Graeme Hall as our first Ramsar site, and in the future hopes to designate more sites.
Barbados’ Physical Development Plan identifies Natural Heritage Conservation Areas and recognizes the importance of the areas identified to biodiversity conservation and the maintenance of representative ecosystems. These areas include the wetland areas of Graeme Hall Swamp, Chancery Land and Long Pond and Walker’s Beach.
The importance of the conservation of these areas is now even more important as we are faced with climate change. The conservation and restoration of these and other wetland ecosystems can contribute to the reduction in the negative impacts from climate change. The maintenance and restoration of coastal wetlands can reduce flooding and coastal erosion
Important to the implementation of the Ramsar Convention is the Convention’s Communication, Education and Public Awareness Programme (CEPA). The Programme identifies what needs to be achieved (the Goals), how these goals can be realized (the Strategies), and what results should be achieved (Key Results Areas). The CEPA Programme offers tools to help people understand the values of wetlands so that they are motivated to become advocates for wetland conservation and wise use and may act to become involved in relevant policy formulation, planning and management. The Ramsar Convention, as does the Ministry of Environment and Drainage, believe that communication, education and public awareness should form a central part of implementing the Convention and in this regard the Biodiversity Section of the Ministry has undertaken an extensive programme of public awareness with respect to wetlands in Barbados.
February 2 each year is World Wetlands Day, it marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971. Each year since 1997, governmental and non-governmental agencies and the general community have taken advantage of the opportunity to undertake actions aimed at raising awareness of wetland values and benefits. Barbados undertakes activities to mark the day involving schools. The Biodiversity Section undertook the development of a poster series, the first of which, Migratory Birds of Wetlands and Shores, and the second, Coastal Vegetation Posters. The Section hopes to develop other posters.
One of the main activities however is tours with various schools. The Departments of the Ministry of the Environment have adopted primary and secondary schools with which they work annually. The Ministry’s environmental education programme in the schools remains consistent with, continuous production and dissemination of public awareness materials, officers conducting tours and giving presentations at schools.
Each year a theme is selected to focus attention on a vital function of wetlands. This year’s theme was “Sustainable Livelihoods” and Barbados joined with the rest of the world in celebrating World Wetlands Day. School tours of Consett Bay were conducted to highlight the theme and to highlight the importance of the fisheries sector to Barbados especially, in this, our 50th year of Independence. Livelihoods from fishing highlight the importance of our coastal ecosystems.
Unfortunately, wetlands are often not viewed in a positive light, even though these ecosystems contribute to sustainable livelihoods, enabling people to make a living, in addition to offering coastal protection.