Welcome and thank you for joining us today to celebrate World Wetlands Day 2012. It’s really a pleasure to have you all here with our co-host, the Republic of Botswana and his Excellency Ambassador Palai. We are delighted to have the chance to partner with Botswana on this celebration and we’re really looking forward to hearing about the wetlands preservation and promotion efforts underway there. We’re also very pleased to have with us today our colleagues from the IUCN and the Ramsar Secretariat.
World Wetlands Day gives us a unique opportunity to highlight and celebrate our diverse wetlands around the globe. Only recently have we begun to understand the important functions that wetlands perform – they are the world’s most productive environments, comparable to coral reefs and rain forests, and a vital link between water and land. With this as inspiration, the U.S. State Department chose to initiate a photo celebration to focus global attention on wetlands. We liked the idea of using the World Wetlands Day 2012 theme of “Wetland Tourism: A Great Experience” to remind people about the opportunities for sustainable tourism in wetlands and to highlight these extraordinary and vastly diverse ecosystems. So, the State Department worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with the Ramsar Secretariat and its five international organization partners to coordinate a photo celebration using social media.
Starting in late December, the celebration and related themes have been featured on State Department and partners’ websites and social media outlets around the world. Our mission here has participated actively in this social media effort encouraging awareness of wetlands. U.S. Secretary of State Clinton even tweeted to her more than 200,000 twitter followers to encourage participation in the wetlands day celebration. Today, the photo celebration serves as a backdrop for the discussion we hope to have about wetlands tourism and its role in sustainable tourism and national development.
Now, many of you are already familiar with wetlands-focused work through the Ramsar Convention. The work Ramsar does is critical to highlighting the links between wetlands and human well being and the health of the planet. A the same time, work related to wetlands policies and programs is not limited to just Ramsar but also takes place in a broad array of fora under many labels — biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, ecosystem services and economic green growth, to name a few. To give you a sense of the significance of what we are dealing with — in the United States the total value of ecosystem services provided by wetlands in 2008 was $27.5 billion annually or $10,600 per acre per year.
Yet, we are facing a global crisis in terms of unprecedented and unacceptable biodiversity loss with many of our most iconic species and valuable ecosystems threatened. One of the primary reasons this continues unabated is the undervaluation of biodiversity and ecosystem services – including by wetlands – in conventional markets and systems of national accounts.
The upcoming Ramsar Convention 11th Conference of the Parties to be hosted by Romania in July will provide an excellent opportunity to advocate for international cooperation and active engagement by all Ramsar parties. Also, we need to use the conference to ensure that we integrate the best science and management practices available, backed by strong wise-use policies, to protect our wetlands around the world.
When people experience wetlands for themselves – as tourists, birders, scientists, or residents – there is often an immediate connection to their beauty and importance. This is reflected by the enthusiasm that the photo celebration generated. Nearly 900 photos from around the world were submitted, and the favorites in four categories – landscapes, plants, tourists, and wildlife – were chosen by the public. Not surprisingly, the photos submitted showcase the diverse wonders of wetlands, with photographers and photo locations from every region. The fan favorite photos were taken in Mexico, Ghana, the United States and Cambodia. We look forward to sharing them with you later in the program.
The U.S. approach to conserving biodiversity emphasizes improving the scientific basis for policy and action so that crucial ecosystems, like the wetlands that brought us together today, can be sustainably used. We are working with partners around the world to strengthen governance and participation by affected communities, and to improve wetlands preservation and conservation enforcement.
We look forward to finding ways to improve the ability of markets and government policies to adequately recognize the values of biodiversity and ecosystems and to incorporate those values in economic planning and decision-making. We also look forward to continuing our work together to conserve the world’s wetlands.
With that, allow me to wish you a Happy World Wetlands Day 2012! I now turn it over to Liz Lord, one of our environment officers at the Mission.