Forests for Water and Wetlands
They are marine, inland wetlands and human-made wetlands and coastal wetlands or intertidal forested wetlands dominated by mangroves.
Whether we live near them or not, wetlands provide many positive benefits for people. Inland swamp forests protect catchments while coastal swamp forests protect our coastline against storms and rising sea levels in some cases.
All swamp forests provide diverse habitats for an impressive range of animal and plant species.
Riparian forests along or around rivers, streams and lakes play a significant role in stabilising banks, trapping sediments and carbon, removing harmful nutrients, reducing water velocity after storms and providing shade for aquatic life.
And of course, forests and wetlands together, have a vital role to play in the provision of freshwater for human health and wealth.
World Wetlands Day is a time to reflect on the importance of wetlands in our lives; to celebrate what has been achieved but also, to rise to the challenge to do more for wetlands, not just on one day but throughout the year.
So, what is World Wetlands Day?
World Wetlands Day is held on February 2 every year and marks the signing of the International Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention), on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
World Wetlands Day was celebrated for the first time in 1997 and since then, events and activities are held world-wide in February each year to raise awareness of wetland values and benefits.
So where are Papua New Guinea's wetlands?I asked this question to Ms Rose Singadan, manager of sustainable terrestrial protection:
"First, there are, many types of wetlands under the three Ramsar classifications but I will name three major types generally recognised as wetlands in PNG.
"They are: the alpine wetlands or high altitude wetlands, for example, the two lakes on Mt Wilhelm in Simbu Province (plus three other smaller ones]; Mt Victoria wet grasslands in the Central province, and many other unknown lakes up in many of our mountain tops.
"There are the arid wetlands and they are usually dry and wet in wet seasons but we could include the manmade Waigani Swamp and the Tonda wildlife management area (WMA) in the Ramu / Markham valley.
"The third is the estuarine wetlands.
"Usually these are locations where the rivers meet the sea like the Gulf Basin, Galley Reach in Central province and Sepik River Basin.
"These are basins that hold vast mangrove forests".
For the record, according to surveys and studies carried out in the last two decades by the Department of Environment & Conservation, PNG has a total record of 5, 383 lakes with a surface area greater than 0.1 hectare; 3, 003 with a surface area of equal to or less than 2 hectares and 22 lakes larger than 1, 000 hectares.
Seventy-five per cent (75%) of theses lakes are found in the Western province and East Sepik province.
The largest of these lakes is Lake Murray in Western province with a surface area of 650 sq km at an approximate depth of 10m and the second largest is the Chambri Lakes in East Sepik province with a surface area of just less than 600 sq km and filling a shallow depression of the Sepik flood plains.
These wetlands are home to large tracts of mangrove and nipa Palms, the most-extensive spread found in the Kikori and the Purari Delta in the Gulf of Papua.
Collectively, the mangroves forests in these basins occupy an area of about 162, 000 to 200, 000 ha, providing habitation to an enormous treasure house of wildlife and fauna.
So why conserve wetlands?
Wetlands are among the world's most productive environments.
They are cradles of biological diversity, providing the water and primary productivity upon which countless high concentrations of species of plants and animals depend for survival.
In turn, this biological diversity is the food source for our people.
Wetlands are also important storehouses.
They trap carbon (dead trees, leaves, grass etc) in their mud banks and hold edible plant genetic material which supports the livelihood of many of our people.
Sago, for example, which is a common wetland plant, is the staple diet of more than half of the country's population.
Seventy-five per cent (75%) of our population does not have gas and electricity and almost all of their cooking is fueled by wood, harvested from wetland forests.
Wetlands are nature's water filter for fresh, clean drinking water.
Therefore, the multiple roles of wetland ecosystems and their value to PNG must be understood by all of us.
Department of Environmental and Conservation (DEC) is mandated to contribute to the conservation and wise use of wetlands in PNG, through the strengthening of capacities based on the technical implementation of the Ramsar Convention.
DEC's vision is to minimise the loss of wetlands because it continues to happen in PNG through various impacts like mining and urban expansion, for example, the loss of the Era Kone (Ela Beach) wetland.
Therefore, wetlands must be conserved, protected or rehabilitated through integral management practices based on the Ramsar Convention guidelines that will guarantee sustainable enjoyment and livelihoods of wetland communities.
DEC objectives therefore are to promote research and education on the wise use of wetlands in PNG; promote and encourage biodiversity conservation in wetlands; promote and increase the number of protected areas in wetland areas; promote sustainable livelihoods in wetlands; prepare available human resources; increase capacity building for the management and conservation of wetlands; and implement the objectives of scientific-technical plan of the Ramsar Convention for the wise use and conservation of wetlands in PNG.
World Wetland Day is a global call for all including Papua New Guineans to become concerned about the importance of wetlands preservation, its uses and its significance to man's livelihood and derived cultures.
In the face of rapid urban expansion, population increase, the effects of climate change, and the accelerating crisis of safe drinking water, PNG must appreciate the value of wetlands.
These values range from economic benefits, for example, water supply (quantity and quality); fisheries (over two-thirds of PNG's fish harvest is linked to the health of coastal and inland wetland areas); agriculture, through the maintenance of water tables and nutrient retention in floodplains and swamp; timber production in our lowland swamp forests; energy resources, such as peat and plant matter; wildlife resources; and recreation and tourism opportunities.
These functions, values and attributes can only be maintained if the ecological processes of wetlands are allowed to continue functioning with minimum of threat.