15 Feb 2014

In the World Wetlands Day

By Jorge Ventocilla

February 2 was designated as World Wetlands Day, making this a good opportunity for reflecting on this matter. In 1971, representatives from all over the world met in Ramsar, Iran, with the purpose of discussing wetlands and their protection. The Ramsar Convention was then signed by representatives of all these countries, including Panama, and came into force in 1975.

The Ramsar Convention is the only global environmental treaty dealing with a particular subject . As defined by the Convention, “wetlands are 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” (source: www.ramsar.org). Undoubtedly, mangrove swamps are the type of wetlands closer to our day to day experiences.

This full moon, I would like to include an interview with my colleague Arturo Dominici-Arosemena, local Biologist who participated in “From the Wetlands to Your Table”, event hosted by Biomuseo. He is the Executive Director of the Ramsar Regional Center for Training and Research on Wetlands in the Western Hemisphere (CREHO). CREHO is the most important institution in the continent concerned with wetlands and it is based in the City of Knowledge, Panama.

I must say Arturo is a very good friend and I know there are some details about his life that are truly relevant but are not included in his résumé.  

“Indeed”, Arturo said, “I have lived really close to mangrove swamps and wetlands since I was born: in areas like Coco del Mar, Old Panama City, Panama Bay, close to where ATLAPA is today. When I was a little kid, I used to play around mangrove swamps, bogs and beaches, catching shrimps with fishing nets and lines. With friends, I would sometimes take a small wooden boat and spend the day exploring the area and get back home very late. We used to look for clams, surf in Coco del Mar and the beaches near Old Panama City ruins.”

As time went by, Arturo, who is proficient in German, English and Portuguese, in addition to Spanish, earned a doctorate in natural science from University of Bremmen, Germany, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. His professional career includes a series of scientific publications and many other environmental conservation and management activities, especially pertaining to marine environments. He is also interested in the diversity of fish in Panama’s watershed.

JV Do you think we value wetlands the way we should? Do people know what the role of these ecosystems is?

AD We have underestimated them as basic elements in water management in connection with the supply and regulation processes we depend on. We also overlook their relevance in assuring food resources for our homes and in providing protection from increasingly evident climate changes. Government agencies and civil society, and international organizations as well, are making efforts for communicating the functions and benefits of wetlands. However, we need to emphasize this at school level; i.e., it is important that local and regional educational programs assign a higher priority on natural resources and biodiversity. We need to target new audiences and set new goals: often times this information is only discussed by environmental professionals. We have to break any and all barriers and make this information available to many other people.

JV It seems we don't really know the value of wetlands in terms of our own quality of life.

AD People who value the role of wetlands are, for example, farm workers and native people who depend on wetlands for growing their crops, common folks affected by flooding caused by damage to wetlands, fishermen who find in wetlands a source for earning a living...these people value wetlands in relation to their quality of life. Nevertheless, this is not true for most people; who may not know it, but who also depend on them. It is difficult to value something we know little about.

JV What should we focus on regarding education and training on wetlands?

Among other things, I would mention their important role in providing food, protection to our homes and infrastructures, protection against climate change and their potential for sustainable tourism as well. Mangrove swamps, even if many people don't know or doubt it, are very appealing for many tourists. Other thing that is equally important is their value in the conservation of natural freshwater reservoirs, eliminating the need of creating artificial reservoirs or containers. It is also important to inform about the connection between watersheds and coastal areas, especially in regards to garbage. Also, wetlands are very important, especially mangrove swamps, in the process of reducing air pollutants and in carbon capture and sequestration.

JV What are your goals as Executive Director at CREHO?

AD. Contribute to the conservation and rational use of wetlands in the Western Hemisphere: position CREHO as a reference point for providing tools which will improve human resources and skills in the communities of the American continent. I would like our team at CREHO to raise awareness regarding the loss of wetlands, create tools for wetland rehabilitation and promote global management for a rational use of these ecosystems, following the guidelines of the Ramsar Convention. And, as a personal goal, I would like to make CREHO a strong, well-established institution, providing professional knowledge exchange opportunities for professionals from our country and other countries with the purpose of promoting attitude and behavior changes regarding wetlands, which are so valuable and singular. I am very confident that we will accomplish all these working from here, the City of Knowledge in Panama.

English translation by Sara I. Melo D.

Galeria de Fotos: 
©Karl Kaufmann/audubonpanama
©Karl Kaufmann/audubonpanama
©Victoria Murillo / ISTMOPHOTO