World Wetlands Day is celebrated annually every February 2 to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands in biodiversity preservation, climate mitigation and adaptation, freshwater availability, and sustainable economy. This day also commemorates the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971 in Ramsar, Iran.
In the Philippines, the government, through Presidential Proclamation No. 74, series of 1999, declared February 2 as National Wetlands Day, in recognition of the valuable role of wetlands to the welfare of the Filipinos and preservation of its endemic biodiversity.
This year’s World Wetlands Day theme is “It’s Time for Wetlands Restoration.” It highlights the urgency in protecting, conserving, and restoring the wetlands to reverse its rapid loss. By increasing the awareness and knowledge of people about wetlands, conservation actions could be done to protect and conserve these important ecosystems.
Wetlands and Peatlands
Wetlands are land areas that are saturated with water. It includes marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, floodplains, and swamps. The United Nations reports that the wetlands’ ecological services contribute US$ 47.5 trillion annually in terms of health, happiness, and security. Despite this, according to the Ramsar Convention, wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. More than 25 percent of wetlands have been degraded or lost since the 1970s.
Peatlands are wetlands with a thick water-logged soil layer, composed of decaying plant materials. Although it only covers 3% of the planet’s surface, peatlands contain double the carbon of the planet’s entire forests. Peatlands are able to sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. It can also absorb heavy rainfall, protect lands against floods, ensure water supply, provide livelihoods, like fishing and farming, and serve as home to many biologically significant species, especially the endangered ones.
At present, the Philippines has two major peatlands: Agusan Marsh and Leyte Sab-a Basin. The Leyte Sab-a Peat Swamp, which is around 3,088 hectares, plays an important role in long-term climate mitigation, given its role in moderating atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. It also serves as a sanctuary to critical endemic flora and fauna, and provides valuable ecosystem services and livelihood opportunities for its surrounding communities.
Since 2018, Forest Foundation Philippines has been working with the Leyte Sab-a Restoration Initiative, headed by the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, its grantee, to protect and conserve around 2,107 hectares of the Leyte Sab-a Peat Swamp Forest. Together, they have established four community-managed nurseries, which produced 42,000 different peatland tree species, and planted and rehabilitated 60 hectares of the peatland forest. In addition, they have supported the organization of the Community Alliance for Peatland Protection, Restoration and Ecotourism (CAPRE), a group composed of 13 People’s Organizations (POs) that are living and residing within the eight barangays of Leyte Sab-a. Aside from these, they have also produced scientific researches to gather baseline information, and establish support for policy, conservation, and advocacy. One important policy that resulted from these researches is the draft Provincial Ordinance on Leyte Sab-a Peatland Management.
PEAK 2023: Peatland Education and Action for Kids in Leyte 2023
Forest Foundation Philippines and Tinker Clubs, its grantee, joined this year’s celebration of World Wetlands Day by organizing Peatland Education and Action for Kids in Leyte: Celebrating World Wetlands Day 2023 (PEAK 2023). It educated the community members, especially the children and parents, living in or near the Leyte Sab-a Peatland about the importance of of peatlands.
During the activity, 42 kids underwent hands-on learning activities to increase their appreciation and understanding of peatlands. While the children were participating in these activities, their parents listened to lectures that highlighted the conservation efforts that are being implemented by various stakeholders in Leyte Sab-a. Hon. Ronan Reposar, Provincial Board Member of Leyte, discussed the draft Provincial Ordinance on Peatland Conservation and encouraged the parents to support it. On the other hand, Ms. Paulina Lawsin-Nayra of the Women Enablers Advocates & Volunteers for Empowering and Responsive Solutions (WEAVERS), and Atty. Jam Colas of Wild Wild Pigs Agri-Ecotourism Park and People for Peat also talked about the projects that civil society organizations are implementing to protect and conserve Leyte Sab-a. They encouraged the community members to join them in this important environmental mission.
Marjorie Pamplona, Landscape Coordinator for Samar and Leyte of Forest Foundation Philippines, shared, “Protecting, restoring, and conserving wetlands is one of the most effective ways to fight climate change. We are grateful for the support of the government, civil society, and community members in celebrating World Wetlands Day 2023. This is just the beginning. Forest Foundation Philippines will continue to work with the local governments, DENR, and communities, so we can collectively address the environmental challenges in the province. We are grateful for the hard work of our grantee, Tinker Clubs. We look forward to implementing the PEAK 2023 school tour and awareness campaign in the coming months, so we can continue enjoin more members of the community, especially the children and their parents, in protecting and conserving Leyte Sab-a.”
Michellie Ann Sabando, Executive Director of Tinker Clubs, furthered, “At Tinker Clubs, we believe in putting children first. We are committed to creating better learning opportunities and experiences for them, and in providing them with the tools they need to make a better future for themselves and for the planet. We are proud to celebrate World Wetlands Day 2023 with the children living in the nearby communities of the Leyte Sab-A Basin Peatland, as they are the future guardians of this significant ecosystem, and we are committed to helping them grow up to be even better stewards of the environment than we are. We thank the Forest Foundation Philippines for supporting our goal to help raise a generation of scientists, innovators, and environmental champions. We are grateful for the partnership, and look forward to continuing our work together to make a positive impact on the environment and the communities that depend on it.”
Other stakeholders from the government also supported the activity. Alangalang Mayor Lovell Ann Yu-Castro, through Municipal Administrator Rex Caraballa, opened the program by giving her message of support for the activity. She reminded the people of their duty to protect and conserve the environment. Mr. Arturo Fadriquela, Regional Executive Director of DENR Region 8, through Mr. Winston Solite, encouraged the community members to protect and conserve Leyte Sab-a as this unique type of ecosystem can only be seen in the region. Hon. Anna Victoria Veloso-Tuazon, Vice Chairperson of the House Committee on Climate Change and District Representative of the 3rd District of Leyte, re-echoed the importance of this unique ecosystem, and furthered that it is imperative to protect and conserve Leyte Sab-a to fight climate change, especially for the sake of the future generations.
At the end of the program, everyone joined the ceremonial signing of the Peatland Protection Pledge, signifying their commitment to protect and conserve the Leyte Sab-a Peatland Forest.