Wetlands are lands that are saturated permanently or periodically by surface or ground water. These ecosystems are also vital sources of food and water and help to sustain a variety of animal and plant life.
Inland wetlands include swamps, marshes, deltas, flood plains and oases while coastal wetlands are typically found in mangroves and tidal flats. Wetlands can also be manmade in the form of fish ponds or rice fields.
A key environmental benefit of wetlands is that they can minimize the impacts of floods and storm surges, which are expected to intensify with climate change.
Unfortunately, Nigeria's wetlands are being lost or damaged due to factors such as high population growth, which is fuelling the demand for land for settlements, industrial development and farming. There is also oil pollution in the Niger Delta and water abstraction in the Lake Chad wetlands. The result is that many wetlands in Nigeria have been drained entirely, filled or left in a fragile state.
Global action to protect wetlands led to the adoption of the Ramsar Convention in 1971 and Nigeria has been a party to this treaty since 2001. Currently, 11 sites on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, are found in Nigeria.
The World Wetlands Day is celebrated on 2 February every year. It is a call to action for raising awareness about the threats to all wetlands and the urgent need for their protection.
To protect Nigeria's wetlands, state governments should strictly enforce physical planning and development regulations. At the same time, local communities should become more invested in preserving these precious ecosystems. This change will need targeted public education campaigns and financial and in-kind support for credible organizations working in this field.