Marking World Wetlands Day in Africa
By Lewis Kihumba
On the first Sunday of February every year, the world marks World Wetlands Day – an event created to raise awareness of the vital role played by wetlands. This year, BirdLife partners across Africa celebrated the theme: “Life thrives in Wetlands”.
BirdLife Botswana (BirdLife Partner) celebrated the day in Maun, Northern Botswana. The celebrations, held in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Affairs and other conservation organisations, focused on the importance of conserving cranes as important wetland species. The event also featured a keynote address from the Hon. Philda Nani Kereng, Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism.
Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS – BirdLife Partner) marked World Wetlands Day through awareness-raising activities including a lecture on the role of wetlands and a bird walk at the Densu Delta, a Ramsar Site. “Ghana has a number of wetlands, but unfortunately, these wetlands are seen as wastelands, leading to encroachment. It is thus important to raise awareness about these sites, restore and rehabilitate them,” noted Louisa Kabobah, Conservation Education officer at GWS.
Kenya has numerous wetlands including the Yala Swamp, Taita Hills and Tana River delta. World Wetlands Day was celebrated in various wetlands across the country. The celebrations led by Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner) included tree planting and clean-up exercises, birdwatching sessions, and promotion of the sustainable use of wetlands.
Engagement with conservation clubs is critical in ensuring local people participate in conservation efforts. Consequently, Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF – BirdLife Partner) marked the day with outreach activities in Lagos, Calabar, Nguru and Finima. These included awareness-raising programmes, birdwatching, presentations and workshops. A highlight of the celebrations was the announcement of Finima Nature Park as a Ramsar site, making it the 12th in the country. Finima Park is a 1000-hectare swamp forest area managed by NCF on behalf of Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited. “NCF is raising awareness of the importance of wetlands among local communities, pupils, students and other stakeholders. People do not attach much importance to these areas, and we are fast losing them to unsustainable development in form of housing and infrastructure. This is revealed in the way they sand-fill wetland areas. Instead of us leaving wetlands to perform their ecological, economic and hydrological functions, we are channelling, canalising and damming all the available wetlands around. Wetlands are not wastelands but wealth lands,” remarked Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano, Director General of NCF.
GREPOM, (BirdLife in Morocco) celebrated the day through various activities which brought together its eight regional units, along with other stakeholders including local authorities, environmental protection associations and public institutions. The celebrations, which drew over 900 participants, included exhibitions, debates and field trips to raise awareness about wetlands. Celebrants also participated in a range of cultural activities to help the general public appreciate the biological diversity of wetlands. In Uganda, all roads led to Bushenyi District, Western Uganda, where World Wetlands Day celebrations were held on 7th February. The celebrations brought together local communities and highlighted the crane and wetland conservation work being implemented by the Endangered Wildlife Trust, International Crane Foundation and Nature Uganda (BirdLife partner), through the Saving the Endangered Grey Crowned Crane in East Africa project. Activities included a radio talk show engaging listeners on the importance of wetlands to human life, an exhibition of wetland resources, a 1.5 km walk and keynote address from the Ugandan Deputy Prime Minister General Rtd Moses Ali.
BirdWatch Zambia, (BirdLife partner) marked the day in collaboration with the Ministry of Land, Natural Resources and Enviromental Protection, and other organizations and institutions including schools. The celebrations included a march to raise awareness of wetlands, clean-up exercises, dances and poems by pupils, in addition to birding activities.
In Senegal, WWD celebrations were held at the Kalissaye Ornithological Reserve in Southern Senegal. This reserve is an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area, and winner of the 2016 Conservation Award. The day was celebrated in collaboration with the managing committee of the site, Ecoguards GIE, environmental education centers, schools and women’s groups. Some of the programs for the day included wetland clean-ups and an awareness-raising campaign highlighting the importance of wetlands.
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The Senegal Bird Atlas is an initiative of the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, with the support of the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbird Action Plan (AEMLAP). The project is a first for a French speaking country in Africa and an integral part of the Africa Bird Atlas Project.