World Wetlands Day, officially known as the Convention of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat is commemorated annually on 2 February. It marks the day of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971 in the Iranian City of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. World Wetlands Day was first celebrated in 1997.
Wetlands are land which is transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water is usually at or near the surface or the land is periodically covered with shallow water. Under normal circumstances, this land supports or would support vegetation typically adapted to life in saturated soil (National Water Act, Act 36 of 1998).
South Africa has 26 Identified Wetlands, with a surface area of 563,005 hectares in total, which are of International Importance. The wetland ecosystems in South Africa are known to be critically endangered. The Ramsar Convention also created the Montreaux Record as a tool to protect, as a manner of priority, wetlands that are or will be threatened by technological development, pollution or human activity.
To understand the value and importance of wetlands, one needs to primarily understand what is meant by Wetlands as stated above. Wetlands play a vital role in ecosystems, wetlands contribute flood control, drought relief, nutrient retention, soil protection, fish nurseries etc. these contributions are critical in maintaining terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Over the years Wetlands have become critically endangered due to Climate Change, eutrophication, water pollution caused mainly by anthropogenic activities (mining, development within and around wetlands) and by other processes (erosion, Invasive alien plants). This has led to Wetlands being regarded as of high International importance.
There are different types of wetlands such as marshes which are characterized by soft- stem vegetation. They are sometimes saturated with water and grasses growing in wet soil conditions. Marshes are classified further as tidal and non-tidal marshes both with different characteristics. Swamps are wetlands dominated by trees and other woody plants, characterised by wet soils. Bogs are freshwater wetlands dominated by green trees and shrubs. Many other types of wetlands such as Vernal ponds and Prairie potholes are found globally across the globe.
Rivers in the Saldanha Bay municipal area such as the Mosselbank (Paternoster), Bok (Saldanha) and Sout (Hopefield) Rivers also have wetland components because the areas in which they are situated are fairly low lying and flat. This results in pans and wetlands which are highly seasonal to the low rainfall in the region.
The Langebaan Lagoon is a large saltwater lagoon; is listed as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site) and is situated in the West Coast National Park. The salt marshes contribute 32% of the entire saltmarsh habitat in the country. The lagoon furthermore servers as a nursery for the development of juvenile fish. the lagoon supports large populations of crabs and snails, marine algae, waterbirds (Waders in summer) and Palaearctic migrants.