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Ecotourism in Wetlands - "The Kidneys of the Ecosystem"

Every year on the 2nd of February the world celebrates World Wetlands Day. According to the Ramsar Convention, wetlands are defined as "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 meters".

There are various studies that have attempted to explore the use of ecotourism as a tool for conserving what have come to be known as the "kidneys of the ecosystem", in large due to the cleansing services they provide. The success of ecotourism in conserving these ecosystems means we have better flood control, groundwater replenishment, storm protection and shoreline stabilization, as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Interesting facts:

- The economic value of 63 million hectares of wetland around the world is estimated to be $200 billion a year

- Wetlands cover approximately 6% of the earth's land surface

- 1 to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater can be stored in an acre

- Storm surges can be reduced by 1 to 1.5 feet by wetlands that are one mile deep

- Blueberries, cranberries, mints, and wild rice are produced in wetlands

The potential role that ecotourism can play in conserving these delicate bodies of water has been considered on a global scale. In fact, the theme for Ramsar's next Conference of the Parties (COP11) meeting in Romania this July is Wetlands, Tourism and Recreation. This is great news, but they'll have to anticipate a lot of cooperation, training, funding, infrastructure development, etc. for ecotourism to be properly developed. I imagine they too agree that ecotourism can stimulate and strengthen local economies and offer local communities economic incentives for not destroying wetlands and taking on ecotourism projects instead. All in all, it is a clear indication that ecotourism can indeed play an important role in conserving "our" kidneys.

Ecotourism in wetlands can offer us a large variety of activities such as bird watching, angling, canoeing, hunting, boating and camping. Going bird watching during your ecotourism trip will prove to be a rewarding experience if you haven't done it before. Bird counts taken during birding trips can be used to determine bird populations, which in turn can be used to indicate the health of environments.

Here are some tips for your ecotourism trip:

- Read up about ecotourism in the area and make sure it's suitable for ecotourism activities
- Educate yourself on the animals and plants in the area
- Bring a decent pair of binoculars
- Avoid wetlands known to host birds during their breeding season
- Always go fishing with a certified angler
- Try and select outfitters that use lead-free tackle
- Practice catch and release of fish unless you catch an invasive/alien species
- Always try and use non-motorized boats
- Do not litter

These are some wetlands known for their ecotourism potential:

- East Kolkarta in India
- Uponeup, Mokp, Sajipo and Jjokjibeol in South Korea
- Hong Kong Wetland Park
- Dongtan in China
- Cienaga in Cuba
- Danube River in Bulgaria
- Nariva Swamp in Trinidad
- Indawgyi in Mynamar
- Akagera National Park in Rwanda

Making sure that proper ecotourism practices are in place and educating ourselves on the value of these ecosystems will significantly contribute to our well-being and emphasize the use of ecotourism as a tool for conversing biodiversity.

Coming up next....Ecotourism in the Arctic