Contributors: Dominic McIntyre, Sheyenne Lewis, Donjonelle Robinson
As the worldwide community introduces its endeavours to meet 2030’s Sustainable Development Objectives, the central significance of wetlands to numerous of the critical targets has been tossed into a sharp center. The world’s wetlands are currently experiencing a severe crisis as they are being damaged by us daily. As we observe this year’s “World Wetlands Day”, being celebrated under the theme: Wetlands, Water & Life, we must recognise our duty to care for our natural environment.
A wetland is any coastal or inland area that is regularly flooded. They are usually characterized by slow runoff or percolation of water and as a result, always appear ‘wet’. Wetlands may be characterized by having fresh, brackish, or saltwater, which would also influence their ecology and potential uses. There are several types of wetlands that exist across the world, however, only mangroves, lagoons, swamp forests, and marshes are found in the Caribbean. Jamaica mainly has coastal mangroves, marshes/morasses, lakes, and ponds. Wetlands may have different uses depending on their location but for the most part, the natural functions of wetlands are similar. Some functions of wetlands are: providing habitats for living organisms, improves water quality by acting as a natural filter for pollutant sand sediments, and reduces the event of coastal flooding.
Wetlands provide a number of ecosystem goods and services and are very important to human survival. They are among the most fertile and vulnerable ecosystems in the world and are at severe risk of being destroyed due to human activity. In addition to be fish sanctuaries, breeding grounds for other aquatic species, they play an important role in flood risk reduction and coastal protection. Wetlands constitute just about 2% of Jamaica’s total surface area (Mangrove & Wetlands Conservation Policy, 1997), and contribute significantly to our GDP through agriculture, tourism and logistics as well as other ecological support in their natural state. They are, however, facing several threats such as pollution, land reclamation such as draining and filling from these same operations.
Additionally, wetlands act as natural filters for water as they can retain contaminants such as heavy metals and phosphorus and can also help with the denitrification process. Adding to this is that more than 19,500 species of animals and plants globally rely on wetlands for survival and is one of the most biologically diverse among ecosystems. Hence, if wetlands are not protected, their destruction can have damaging ripple effects that can lead to coastal damage through flooding, loss of lives, properties, and livelihoods. It is therefore critical that the protection of wetland resources be made a priority in decisions relating to sustainable development and environmental protection.
The sustainable development goals (SDGs) reflect an ambitious agenda for poverty eradication and sustainable development by 2030. The 2030 Plan for Sustainable Development develops a detailed vision for a prosperous future for everyone. Wetlands support this goal by providing support for sustainable fisheries and community-based tourism that supports smaller households oftentimes primarily headed by women. Considering also, that women and minority intersections are also on the frontlines of climate change. It is critical to understand how wetland protection and climate change play a role in sustainability planning and development.
Wetlands are crucial to climate change adaptation, which is at the centre of sustainability conversations today. Wetlands help to absorb and store extra amounts of carbon dioxide, which is critical to mitigating climate change and all the impacts that come with it such as hurricanes, floods, droughts etc. It is important for us to understand fully the linkages between our lives and livelihoods, the goods and services we extract from wetlands and the conditions that need to be met to sustain that relationship. In the face of climate change and the rapidly changing realities that we are experiencing, this will become increasingly important to our survival.