Wetlands are important sources of freshwater vital to life, our wellbeing and the health of our planet. When we have healthy wetlands, we have healthy freshwater and nature.
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2nd February to mark the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on wetlands in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Bhutan became a contracting party to the Ramsar Convention on 7th September, 2012, joining the global community in the conservation of wetlands. Bhutan has 3 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), with an area of 1,225 hectares in Gangtey, Phobjikha and Bumdeling. They are important winter home of the vulnerable Black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis), which migrate annually from the Tibetan Plateau to Bhutan.
The other lesser known migratory water bird that use the wetlands are Ruddy Shelducks, (Tadorna ferruginea) considered sacred due to their orange plumage that resembles the saffron robe of a Buddhist monk. These birds have been observed to fly across the mighty Himalayas from Bhutan to the Tibetan Plateau and even to Mongolia travelling distances over 10,000 km and soaring altitudes of more than 7000 meters above sea level. Without healthy wetlands as home and as stepping stones to recharge their energy on the long flight home, these Ruddy Shelducks and many other species of migratory birds would die.
Wetlands are the natural water and storage tanks of nature and provide us with clean freshwater, food, energy, recreation, employment, spiritual places, habitat for rich biodiversity, disaster risk reduction and buffer against the climate change impacts. They are our natural kidneys and help to absorb harmful pollutants like carbon dioxide and nitrogen thereby helping Bhutan to maintain our commitment to remain carbon neutral.
Wetlands in Bhutan include glaciers, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, vernal pools, peat, marshes and predominantly water-logged areas. High Altitude Wetlands cover about 0.26% of Bhutan’s total land area with 3027 wetlands found above 3000 meters. They support rich diversity of both animal and plant life. The endangered fish Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora ) known as the Tiger of the River inhabits the fast flowing rivers of southern Bhutan while the endemic Snow Trout ( Schizothorax) of the Himalayas resides in the cold mountain waters towards the temperate region. These and many other endangered and rare species form the important wetlands biodiversity with more waiting to be discovered.
Threats to wetlands in Bhutan are largely from expansion of towns, cities, roads and development activities in both urban and rural areas leading to fragmentation, pollution and degradation of wetlands. Once the wetland is lost, it becomes irreversible and costly to restore it. Thus we need to take care of our natural wetlands and not damage and alter them but keep them natural, free flowing and should not fence with concrete materials or use unsustainably for drinking and irrigation and avoid the planting of non-native species and pollution of water bodies.
On World Wetlands Day, let us appreciate and value our wetlands and freshwater ecosystems and take care of them to keep them healthy, natural and flowing for both present and future Bhutanese before they are lost forever.
We can all make a difference. Together possible
 Featuring the lesser known migratory bird – the Ruddy Shelduck
 Golden Mahseer documentary
 Adapted from http://www.moaf.gov.bt/brief-on-wetlands-conservation-in-bhutan/
For further information, contact Sonam Choden, Freshwater Practice lead, WWF Bhutan