My wetlands career journey began in 2014 when I first landed a job at Wetlands International South Asia. With a great passion for waterbirds, I started coordinating the Asian Waterbird Census working in close collaboration with volunteers and organizations across India. Visiting wetlands, conducting surveys and engaging with communities offered a great hands-on learning experience. The next phase with the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands in Switzerland provided international experience in liaising with governments for supporting the implementation of the Convention. One of the most fulfilling parts of this position was supporting countries with the Ramsar Site designation process and providing Ramsar tags to their sites. Subsequently, with WWF-India, I worked directly with Forest Officials responsible for managing wetlands to provide better understandings of the site-level management challenges they face. It is these rewarding professional experiences that give me the motivation to want to continue to grow as an environmental conservation professional.

Wetlands are known to provide a wide range of ecosystem services such as livelihood support, source of food and water, habitats for lifeforms, climate regulation, hazard reduction and recreational activities. However, the knowledge and awareness about the importance of wetlands are mostly confined within the “nature conservation” community leaving the greater majority of the population unaware of the benefits. Often, wetlands are undervalued, overexploited and treated as “wastelands” leading to encroachments or conversion of these vital ecosystems to other non-wetland uses. They are constantly under pressure, mostly anthropogenic which is further aggravated by climate change. Thus, there is an urgency to conserve and effectively manage wetlands to sustain the benefits of ecosystem services provided to people and nature.

Reversing the trend of wetland loss and degradation requires close collaboration between governments, NGOs and concerned stakeholders. Identification and designation of suitable wetlands as Ramsar Sites, development and implementation of site-specific integrated management plans, influencing decision-makers by enhancing science and policy interlinkages, and strengthening CEPA (communications, capacity building, education, participation and awareness) implementations are actions critical for wetland conservation and wise use. Going forward, emphasis on educating and raising awareness of the general public is needed, especially the communities settling around wetlands about the importance of wetlands and their conservation.

 

Yaiphaba Akoijam