14 February 2005

World's wetlands under threat

More than 2 000 species of freshwater fish could face extinction, putting further pressure on the 40% of the world's water birds already in decline because of shrinking wetlands across the globe, environmental experts said on Monday.

Delegates to the third Asian Wetlands Symposium - a three-day conference held in India's eastern city of Bhubaneshwar that will also address the impact of the December 26 tsunami - said growing human populations, increasing industrialisation and weak or non-existent environmental laws have resulted in rapidly declining wetlands.

"The rate of loss of wetlands and wetland species are greater than other habitats such as forests and grasslands," said Max Finlayson, president of the environmental advocacy group Wetlands International.

The delegates said on the first day of the symposium that wetlands protect coasts - providing a buffer against tides and floods - and also support plants and animals essential to human survival. Representatives of all the Asian countries affected by the recent tsunami are taking part in the symposium.

Freshwater fish face extinction
Between 1970 and 2000, freshwater ecosystems declined at a much faster rate than many others, Finlayson said. In addition to the decline of water birds, populations of reptiles that use the freshwater environments have also been damaged.

An estimated 20% of the world's 10 000 known species of freshwater fish also face extinction, he said.

"Similarly, mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass beds are under severe threat as are wetlands, lakes and ponds in many parts of the world, including Asia," Finlayson said.

More than 400 people from 31 countries were attending the symposium, jointly organised by the Ramsar Centre of Japan and the state government of Orissa, of which Bhubaneshwar is the capital. Similar symposiums were previously held in Japan and Malaysia.


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