The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was signed in the city of Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 and entered into force in 1975. Ramsar is the only environmental convention that addresses a specific ecosystem, that of the wetlands. Wetlands, as recognised by the Ramsar Convention, fulfil essential ecological functions, as regulators of hydrological regimes and as habitats for a very rich biodiversity and are a resource of great economic, cultural, scientific and recreational importance that must be preserved.
Mangroves, coastal forests located in tropical and equatorial areas of the world, are part of these wetlands. They are presently seriously threatened. According to FAO, over 50% of the mangroves have already disappeared. Today the main cause of mangrove loss is the expansion of the shrimp industry, breeding shrimps or tropical prawns in coastal areas of poor countries to export them to rich countries such as Spain, the United States or Japan. In fact, most of the prawns found today on the market are a product of the destruction of coastal ecosystems in the countries of the South and of the displacement of local populations.
Resolution VII.2, taken at the Seventh Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Costa Rica, 1999), recognises the economic, social and environmental value of the wetlands such as mangroves for fishing, biodiversity, coastal protection, leisure activities, education and water quality. It recognised that the subsistence of a considerable number of populations depends on the productivity and value of wetlands located in inter-tidal zones and also showed concern over the advanced process of degradation that is to be found in many coastal wetlands, mainly as a result of unsustainable aquaculture and contamination.
In view of the above, the Convention urged the Contracting Parties --that is to say, the States-- to suspend the promotion and creation of new facilities for unsustainable aquaculture activities, damaging to coastal wetlands, including the expansion of already existing facilities, until measures aimed at establishing a sustainable aquaculture system, in harmony with the environment and local communities can be identified, by means of environmental and social impact assessments on such activities and through appropriate studies.
Unfortunately, this resolution is not being implemented. For this reason, Greenpeace and the Mangrove Network (Redmanglar) (a network gathering NGOs from Ecuador, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia working in defence of mangroves) will submit a very concrete demand regarding mangroves: a moratorium on the expansion of the shrimp industry, to the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention, to be held in November, in Valencia (Spain).
Without this stoppage, we will be unable to save these ecosystems and we will prevent the local populations that depend on them from having a different opportunity --other than poverty or migration. Perhaps the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention is one of the last opportunities to curb the destruction of the only forests that can live with their roots in the sea.
By: Eva Hernández,