Water makes up about a quarter of the total area of Ireland, so World Wetlands Day, on Feb 2, has a resonance here.
Our coastal wetlands include all marine waters off-shore to a depth of six metres, embracing significant estuaries such as the Shannon Estuary and Waterford Harbour and also broad stretches of open coastline. These include beaches and cliffs which provide some of our most spectacular scenery and support internationally-important concentrations of birds.
Boosted by ample rainfall, we also have a wide range of inland wetlands, including marshes, fens, bogs, rivers, lakes and ponds. Our rivers and streams link the various wetlands with the sea and also act as corridors for our migratory fish species — salmon, eel, lampreys and shads.
Some wetlands, such as our peatlands and turloughs, are unique both in Europe and, internationally. Wetlands act as sponges, retaining large quantities of water during periods of high rainfall and slowly releasing this in times of drought, or low flow in rivers.
They create a mix of habitats that are home to a huge number of plant and animal species. Many are important areas for fishing, boating, shooting or just enjoying time at the seaside. In recent times, they have also become places where people visit to observe nature and the environment close up — a welcome change from the days when these areas were regarded as useless marshes, bogs and dumps.
Ireland is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention (1971) and supports the three main aims of the convention. First is the wise use of wetlands, ensuring conservation and vigilance in planning; second is to designate suitable wetlands and, third, to cooperate internationally.
According to the Irish Ramsar Wetlands Committee, main threats to wetlands here come from drainage of these areas for water extraction, agricultural use, peat extraction, private forestry and industrial purposes.
Other areas of concern include building and housing, on wetlands (Celtic Tiger echoes), resulting in flooding, loss of habitats for wildlife, as well as pollution from sewage, chemical waste and run-off from industry and agriculture as well as. Invasive species such as Japanese knotweed, Giant hogweed, American mink and zebra mussels also pose a threat
Ramsar is a city in northern Iran and the convention to which it gave its name now has the commitment of 163 countries. The total surface area of designated sites is almost 200 Million hectares. There are 67,000 hectares comprising 45 sites in Ireland, including Cork Harbour, the Gearagh (Macroom), Ballycotton Bay, Ballymacoda and the Blackwater Estuary.