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Five stories from our world’s wetlands


Happy World Wetlands Day!

Our wetlands are essential for life, they’re home to a variety of wildlife, help prevent flooding, store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change and protect our coastlines.

But did you know that more than a billion people make a living from wetlands across the world?  Wetlands provide livelihoods, from fishing and eco-tourism, to farming and drinking water for communities. Under the HSBC Water Programme, WWF is working to support some of the world’s most vital wetlands and the communities that depend on them across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In this blog I wanted to share some stories of people who depend on our wetlands for their livelihoods and why they are so important for our future.

Manuel Barbosa, Farmer, Tangará da Serra, Pantanal, Brazil

Manuel Barbosa, Farmer, Tangará da Serra, Pantanal, Brazil ©WWF-UK Manuel Barbosa, Farmer, Tangará da Serra, Pantanal, Brazil ©WWF-UK

Manuel Barbosa inherited land and a love for nature from his father. He grows fruit and vegetables and also raises dairy cattle on his small farm, all for his family’s own consumption. He feels his greatest achievement is the contribution he has made to the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, by supporting a new Pantanal Pact to conserve its headwaters. Part of this pact is the conservation of the stream Queima Pé that runs through his property and provides clean water to the population of Tangará da Serra – over 90,000 people. In 2015, the pact’s partners, including WWF-Brasil, helped improve water filtration into the land and minimise erosion and sedimentation run off from roads through activities such as contour planting and the restoration of forest around the source of the stream.

“Thanks to contour planting, when it rains now, the water can infiltrate properly into the soil and consequently feed the spring and stream. My pastures have improved, but the main thing is that it ensures there is plenty of clean water in the stream.

“People need to understand that protecting springs guarantees water for everybody, because the water from the spring flows into the stream, which flows into the river and feeds the whole region. Water is everything. Water is life. The same water that I drink, that quenches the thirst of my cows, is the same water that supplies the town and its businesses and that people use to drink, shower and wash.” Manuel Barbosa.

Wang Guicai, Fisherman, Lake Hong Wetland Reserve, Yangtze, China

Wang Guicai, Fisherman, Lake Hong Wetland Reserve, Yangtze, China ©WWF-UKWang Guicai, Fisherman, Lake Hong Wetland Reserve, Yangtze, China ©WWF-UK

Wang’s whole family has lived on boats on Lake Hong for generations. Since work began to restore the lake wetland reserve in 2002, Wang and his family have seen it transformed from being dirty and polluted through unsustainable fishing practices to the cleaner lake it is today.

Over the past 14 years WWF-China, with the support of local communities and government, has demonstrated how sustainable fishing methods can result in healthy fish, reduced pollution and clean water. Wang is one of the community fishermen helping to lead this change. He catches fish through traditional, more sustainable methods and his daughter sells the fish they catch to local markets and fisheries.

“The supply of fish and the size of fish have improved since the lake has been protected, which means we can increase our income from selling the fish. The water is also now clean enough to drink.” Wang Guicai.

Rose Korir, Farmer, Mara River basin, Kenya

Rose Korir, Farmer, Mara River basin, Kenya ©WWF-KenyaRose Korir, Farmer, Mara River basin, Kenya ©WWF-Kenya

The Mara River and its wetlands are renowned for supporting a vast array of wildlife. Thousands of communities also depend on the river basin, and agriculture is the backbone of many families in the Mara river basin, like Rose Korir’s.

The river is under threat from pollution due to bad farming practices. WWF-Kenya is working closely with riverside landowners and national and local governments to demonstrate the need to protect riparian land and to show how pollution can be reduced to provide clean waters.

Efforts to restore Rose’s land started in 2012, and she and her family are playing a role in bringing about this conservation change, simultaneously supporting their own livelihoods. She grows grafted avocado as a source of food for the family and income, as she sells the surplus to the local market. She has also been contracted as a supplier to another farm that exports avocados.

“The productivity of my farm has improved and my family also benefits from availability of avocados that has not only improved their nutrition but increased income from selling the fruits. The water is also better than it used to be and we hope to improve it even more.” Rose Korir

Surachai Narongsin, Fisherman, Songkhram River basin, Northeast Thailand

The Songkhram River Wetlands are home to Surachai Narongsin © WWF-Thailand

The wetlands of the Songkhram River basin in Northeast Thailand teem with life. It is a key fish breeding zone and seen as the “belly of Thailand” due to its connection to the Mekong that supplies fish to the rest of the country. Fish are essential for the life of local communities, for food and for income. More than 140,000 people depend directly on the area’s rich biodiversity for their food.

WWF-Thailand works with the local government and communities to stop the creation of new farms around the wetlands, which increase pollution; support community forests; and designate “no-take” zones in key fish breeding and spawning habitat. Thanks to these combined efforts, the area is already seeing improvement and fishermen like Narongsin are taking a stand to conserve the Songkhram River basin’s abundance.

“The Songkhram River basin is my entire life and my inspiration. If nobody stands up to protect this area, the fishes’ spawning will be destroyed. This critical spawning is in danger from chemical fertilizer run-off from agriculture hurting the water quality and over-fishing, but few locals knew about the threats until recently. With WWF’s help, that is changing.” Surachai Narongsin

Beeralinge Gowda, Community Member, Kokkarebelluru, Karnataka, India

Beeralinge Gowda, Community Member, Kokkarebelluru, Karnataka, India ©WWF-India Beeralinge Gowda, Community Member, Kokkarebelluru, Karnataka, India ©WWF-India

Kokkarebelluru is a village named after the unique relationship its residents have with the painted storks and spot billed pelicans that have been migrating to the wetlands for centuries to breed. Development and tree felling in Kokkarebelluru has impacted the wetlands and the biodiversity that depends on them. WWF-India’s Aardhrabhoomi programme has been working with local communities and government on the conservation of seven wetlands in the region. We’re also facilitating the restoration of a reading centre to provide local communities with eco-tourism opportunities.

Gowda is a community member who has supported the conservation efforts for the last 20 years. He is passionate about motivating others to conserve the wetlands for the benefit of the pelicans and biodiversity that depends on them, and to improve livelihoods.

“The conservation efforts initiated by WWF-India are unique and quite necessary as they involve multiple stakeholders, demonstrating the importance of collective, coordinated efforts. The livelihood options for ecotourism will not only contribute to conservation of biodiversity of the area, it will enable us to revive traditional structures and share the nature of the bond we have with these birds so more people will come to know what it really means to live in harmony with nature. This is just the beginning, the future looks bright. ” Beeralinge Gowda

The HSBC Water Programme supports our freshwater work in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It also supports several locally funded projects across the world.

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