World Wetlands Day 2024

Thursday, 1 February 2024

  • Estimated reading time 2 min

World Wetlands Day

Every year, we celebrate World Wetlands Day on 2 February – the anniversary of the signing of the Ramsar Convention in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The world’s oldest international conservational treaty, the Ramsar Convention was established to halt and reverse the worldwide loss of wetlands and protect those that remain.

What are wetlands?

A wetland is an area of land that is covered with water – either permanently or seasonally.

Wetlands include:

  • Terrestrial wetlands like marshes, lakes, rivers, floodplains, peatlands and swamps
  • Marine and coastal wetlands like estuaries, mudflats, mangroves, lagoons and coral reefs, and
  • Artificial wetlands like fishponds, rice paddies and salt pans.

Wetlands cover over 4% of Australia – spanning nearly 34 million hectares. This includes 66 Ramsar-listed wetlands globally recognised for their significant value.

A flock of waterbirds (Plumed Whistling-Ducks, a Glossy Ibis and Royal Spoonbill) in flight as they take off from the water of a wetland. Water lilies, vegetation and a mountain range are visible in the background.
Waterbirds taking flight at Marglu Billabong. Photo by Alison Smoker

Why are wetlands important?

Wetlands are critical to the health of our planet and support a huge variety of life, including our own. Known as the “world’s kidneys”, wetlands improve water quality by filtering out contaminants and protect our shores from storms and floods – even reducing carbon emissions by absorbing and storing vast amounts of carbon.

While they only cover around 6% of the Earth’s land surface, up to 40% of all the world’s plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands. Wetlands are critical habitat for threatened species like migratory shorebirds and support a huge diversity of life – including species that are found nowhere else on earth.

Wetlands also hold ecological, spiritual and cultural significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.

This year’s World Wetlands Day theme is “Wetlands and Human Wellbeing” – because the health of the world’s wetlands impacts our own physical, mental and environmental wellbeing, too.

What are the threats to wetlands? 

World Wetlands Day is not just a celebration – it’s a global call to action to protect these vital ecosystems.

Despite their importance, the world’s wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate – a staggering three times faster than our forests. In the past 50 years alone, we’ve lost around 35% of the world’s wetlands – making them the most threatened type of ecosystem on the planet.

Our wetlands need our care and protection now more than ever.

Globally, wetlands are being cleared and their water diverted and drained to make way for development. They’re also threatened by the growing effects of climate change like increasing droughts and fires, as well as growing pressures from overgrazing and invasive species.

A large flock of brown Plumed Whistling-Ducks congregating in the shallow water of a wetland against a blurred background of water lilies and vegetation. The ducks have bright orange eyes, rufous and black barred feathers and long pale plumes on their wings, and their reflection is visible in the water.
Plumed Whistling-Ducks by Gary Kramer

Help protect Toondah Harbour this World Wetlands Day

This World Wetlands Day, join us in calling on Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to save the Ramsar-listed wetlands of Queensland’s Toondah Harbour.  The mudflats and sandbanks of Toondah are part of one of the most important migratory shorebird sites in Australia – providing critical feeding habitat and a last remaining stronghold for threatened migratory shorebirds like the Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew.

A thunder moon rises over the wetlands of Toondah Harbour
A thunder moon rises over the wetlands of Toondah Harbour. Photo by Judy Leitch

In November last year, Walker Corporation, Australia’s largest property developer, submitted its final plans for the Toondah Harbour real estate project, outlining a $1.3 billion proposal to build 3,600 apartments, a hotel, restaurants and marinas right on top of these internationally significant mudflats. Now, it’s up to Minister Tanya Plibersek to decide whether to reject or approve the proposal.

Use our handy online tool to ask the Minister to reject Walker’s destructive real estate project and save Toondah Harbour.