Wetlands Day takes place each year on 2 February, and this year DITSONG Museums of South Africa has put together a brief history of the day, as well as context on the importance of our wetlands systems for the environment.
With the Tswaing Meteorite Crater and surrounding areas being home to an extensive wetland system, DITSONG is also encouraging visitors to explore and learn more about the area, which offers hikes, birdwatching, and an opportunity for a brilliant day outdoors for the whole family.
Wetlands Day and the Tswaing Meteorite Crater
Some 220 000 years ago a blazing stony meteorite the size of half a football field slammed into the earth’s crust. The impact formed a huge crater, 1.4 km in diameter and 200m deep, now known as the Tswaing Meteorite Crater. This crater is one of the best-preserved meteorite impact craters in the world. The name Tswaing means Place of Salt in Setswane, and refers to a saline lake that covers the crater floor.
Tswaing is also home to an extensive wetland system, the large variety of plant species of the Sourish-Mixed Bushveld, and 240 species of birds.
A brief history of Wetlands Day
Wetlands Day is celebrated on 2 February each year. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Each year since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat has provided materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.
South Africa is one of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention). South Africa signed the Ramsar Convention in 1971 at its inception and the membership was formalised in 1975 when South Africa ratified the Convention and became the fifth contracting party. One of the obligations of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention is to commemorate the World Wetlands Day (WWD).
The importance of wetlands in a water-scarce country
South Africa is a water scarce country, and the water in many streams is polluted. Both droughts and floods are common. In this regard, wetlands play a vital role by removing toxic substances and sediment from water, while also improving downstream water quality and the overall health of communities.
Tswaing’s Simon Nyalungu, explains that wetlands also act as a natural reservoir, supply water for human, agricultural, industrial, and environmental use.
‘They are important for storing and controlling surface water as well as maintaining water quality, providing habitat, food, shelter, water and space for animals, and also storing excess water, releasing it during dry periods or droughts.’Tswaing’s Simon Nyalungu
Wetlands are able to reduce the severity of droughts and floods by regulating stream flow. They also help to purify water and provide habitats for many different plants and animals. Besides these indirect benefits to society, wetlands provide many direct benefits in the form of resources such as fibre for making crafts as well as recreational opportunities. However lack of community awareness on the value and benefits of wetlands often leads to their transformation by humans.
Nyalungu emphasises the importance of awareness days such as Wetlands Day, explaining that a crucial part of raising awareness about our wetlands is ‘By teaching people about the importance of water and how our wetlands store water, and provide shelter to animals and plants.’