Human activities accelerate the disappearance of wetlands

Wetlands contribute to carbon sequestration up to 55 times faster than tropical forests. Mexico ranks fourth in the world for the importance of its mangroves, and second in the Americas. The environmental services they provide are innumerable; protecting them should be a national priority.

Human activities accelerate the disappearance of wetlands
Wetlands disappearance accelerated by human activities. Photo by Joy Sze / Unsplash

Despite their importance, Mexico's wetlands have been threatened for decades, and their modification or destruction is terrible. The main dangers looming over these habitats are agriculture, cattle ranching and mass tourism, considered Pedro Ramírez García Armora, from UNAM's Institute of Biology (IB).

Some studies (2019) indicate that Mexico has 6,331 wetland complexes, of which 142 are considered of international importance; however, 62 percent have been lost to date.

Added to this problem are pollution and the use of herbicides, insecticides, and artificial nutrients used to favor crops, in addition to deforestation and climate change, which causes diverse phenomena such as melting ice, wetland siltation, and, in general, the rise in sea level, said the member of the Aquatic Vegetation Laboratory.

According to information from the Convention on Wetlands, published last December 15, 35 percent of their global extension was lost from 1970 to that date and they disappear three times faster than forests, which means that more than a quarter of the species that inhabit them are threatened with extinction.

Of the 142 areas of international importance mentioned that our country has, equivalent to a total surface area of 8,657,57 hectares, 80 are related to 69 federally protected natural areas; it is one of the nations with the most "Ramsar sites" (a name that refers to the Iranian city where the Convention on Wetlands was signed in 1971).

These terrestrial areas saturated or seasonally or permanently flooded with water are found almost everywhere on the planet, and are continental - such as aquifers, lakes, rivers, streams, marshes, peatlands, lagoons, floodplains, and swamps - and coastal (saltwater marshes, estuaries, lagoons or coastal lagoons, seagrass meadows, mangroves, and coral reefs). For example, "Mexico ranks fourth in the world for the importance of its mangroves, and second in the Americas, only after Brazil," explained Ramírez García Armora.

Great benefits of wetlands

The environmental services provided by these ecosystems are innumerable; they are home to countless species of flora and fauna, they function as regulating vessels and thus prevent flooding; they also filter the water that reaches the water table. They also provide food through hunting and fishing, and even construction materials. They are also relevant to the tourism sector.

Wetlands are "traps" for organic matter and contribute to soil formation, and in the face of climate change, especially mangroves, marshes, and seagrass meadows, they help capture carbon, which then no longer reaches the atmosphere; they "sequester" carbon dioxide up to 55 times faster than tropical forests. They also play an important role in the availability of freshwater.

They provide unparalleled services in climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity, and human health, worth more than $47.4 trillion a year, and their degradation poses a risk to human life and livelihoods, stresses the Convention in the publication of The New Global Outlook on Wetlands: Special Edition 2021.

The report shows that inadequate management has increased rates of water scarcity, poor sanitation, and water-borne diseases, contributing to millions of deaths each year. Protecting them and ensuring their sustainable use is crucial for sustainable development.

In Mexico, the reform to Article 27 of the Constitution (1992), which allowed the sale of the ejido and communal land, posed a threat to ecosystems, including wetlands that offered shores and beaches for port and urban hotel development. To this was added extensive agriculture and cattle ranching.

Although progress has been made in the development of a constant sequence of studies and the creation of institutions, such as the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, "more needs to be done". In general, these institutions work each on their own, when there should be a national policy or programs that also involve state universities; protecting these habitats should be a national priority.

There is already a National Inventory of Wetlands, in charge of the National Water Commission, which should be updated every five years because these are dynamic systems; there is also a need for greater dissemination of these sites and greater awareness among decision-makers so that they implement long-term policies.

It is necessary to improve the training of teachers at the basic level, to show the population, starting in childhood, the importance of an ant, a reptile, a mammal, or any other organism. "In some places, they hunt for fun. That is why education should include not only children in the big cities, but also those in rural areas, and that everyone should keep in mind the care and protection of biodiversity, not throwing garbage into rivers and lagoons, etc.".

We are on time to rescue the wetlands and at the University we have experts who can make great contributions to the dissemination of knowledge; we must bring this knowledge closer to the rural communities, fishermen, tourist guides, and locals, so that they, in turn, share the information with the visitors of each place, concluded Ramírez García Armora.