World Wetlands Day is an annual event that commemorates the signing of the Convention on Wetlands which took place on the 2nd of February 1971 at the Iranian City of Ramsar. The annual celebration aims to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands for socio-economic development.
Namaqualand did not fall short on World Wetlands Day celebrations, as activities took place at the Port Nolloth Bird Park, which is a restored wetland and a SKEPPIES project area. Port Nolloth is located in the Greater Richterveld, a SKEP priority area regarded as having the world’s highest succulent and lichen diversity.
Participants celebrated under the theme: “Wetlands and Tourism” with the slogan “Enhancing community livelihoods”, reflecting how valuable wetlands have become to communities.
At the Port Nolloth Bird Park, twenty Eco School learners, teachers from Port Nolloth Roman Catholic Primary, Port Nolloth Bird Park volunteers, and SKEP conservation partners such as Conseravtion South Africa (CSA), the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation ( DENC), and the Kamiesberg Working for Wetlands team were engaged in exciting activities for the day.
The learners were split into teams and tested on their knowledge of wetlands, tourism and national parks. This ranged from an introduction to wetlands; an environmental educational treasure hunt, the building of a conservation awareness model, the chance to get down and dirty in wetland clean up and restoration with assistance from the Kamiesberg Working for Wetlands team and members of the Richtersveld Community Work Programmes (CWP) led by the Bird Park volunteers, a small group of Richtersveld CWP workers planted ten Ebbehotut trees, and lastly the construction of an automated weather station.
The winning team went home with two nature DVD’s and two books for their Eco School. The books were kindly donated by SANParks Honorary Rangers and by author Dr Peter Ryan of the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute for African Ornithology at UCT, who donated a signed copy of a photographic bird guide.
Wetlands worldwide are threatened as the benefits of wetlands have been long unrecognized. In a water-stressed region like the Greater Richtersveld, failure to manage wetlands appropriately may lead to severe water shortages. In South Africa, development and poor land management have destroyed over 50% of freshwater wetlands. South Africa has 16 wetlands designated as wetlands of international importance in accordance with the Ramsar Convention.
Sustainable tourism both in and around wetlands can bring many benefits to countries from national to local community level, but it has not been given much attention. The festivities at Port Nolloth Bird Park demonstrated that the day was to increase awareness about the importance of wetland conservation and the role wetland managers, the youth and tourism at national parks can play in integrating wetlands to sustainable tourism.