How National Ecosystem Assessments can help to protect wetlands, and the migratory birds that depend on them

Egret in water, Vietnam, Huy Nguyen

For World Wetlands Day, we highlight how National Ecosystem Assessments in Vietnam and Ethiopia help policymakers and practitioners recognise the importance and multiple values of wetlands. Wetlands are crucial habitats for migratory birds. How to conserve and restore these ecosystems will be among the vital discussions at a major upcoming UN meeting on migratory species, where the first ‘State of the World’s Migratory Species’ report – written by experts at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre – will be released.

Every year, tens of millions of migratory birds rely on wetlands for food, rest and shelter during their long journeys. Despite being some of the planet’s most important ecosystems, wetlands are increasingly threatened – with knock-on impacts for the migratory birds that depend on them.

National Ecosystem Assessments are a comprehensive analysis of the benefits the natural environment provides to society and economic prosperity. They include information on the status of wetlands, what is driving their loss and how they are interlinked with people – information that is important for policymaking to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

The National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) Initiative at UNEP-WCMC supports countries conducting National Ecosystem Assessments. Vietnam and Ethiopia are two of the countries that have been supported by the NEA Initiative to generate up-to-date information on wetlands among other ecosystems that is made available to decision-makers.

Vietnam’s NEA: Wetlands make significant economic contribution

Vietnam’s National Ecosystem Assessment, published in 2022, identified wetland ecosystems as one of the country’s three main ecosystem groups. It states that there are 26 types of wetland in Vietnam, and they cover nearly 40 per cent of the country’s land. Wetlands also have the highest levels of biodiversity and biological productivity of all the country’s ecosystems, and make significant contributions to the economy and social welfare.

The assessment acknowledged that existing policy measures have made significant contributions to maintain and enhance wetland ecosystems, but stated that wetland ecosystems such as rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs and estuarine areas are degraded and biodiversity has been reduced; peat swamps have fallen in both area and thickness; natural tidal flats are affected; lagoons are degraded in varying degrees; and seagrass beds are shrinking.

Looking forward, the assessment developed four future plausible scenarios for ecosystems and their services with proposed measures for proactive management. It proposed a pilot policy on payments for wetland ecosystems services which must include appropriate benefit-sharing mechanisms between service users and service providers; a support mechanism; and payment rates of users for each type of service.

Black-faced spoonbills in Xuan Thuy National Park, Vietnam. The park in Nam Dinh province is the first wetland area in Southeast Asia to be recognised as a Ramsar site and as an internationally significant migratory bird habitat (Image: Kristinvafranzi / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ethiopia’s NEA: Overexploitation threatens natural wealth

Ethiopia’s National Ecosystem Assessment, also published in 2022, noted that the country is endowed with substantial wetland ecosystems. These ecosystems are very important areas for biodiversity, providing habitat for at least 25 per cent of Ethiopia’s bird diversity and several species of megafauna.

The report revealed that wetlands in Ethiopia are degrading rapidly due to overexploitation of their resources by human activities. Furthermore, their biodiversity is fast declining. A low level of community awareness of wetland conservation is one of the significant findings reported by multiple researchers. The assessment emphasised that exemplary Indigenous practices, such as by the Konso community, Ethiopian Orthodox Church forest conservation practices, and Irreechaa festivity areas, provide opportunities to expand wetland and aquatic resource conservation.

It concluded that at different scales, legislative development and organisational reforms have reduced environmental challenges, including issues faced by wetlands. However, further interventions are essential to secure the future of wetlands in Ethiopia.

A crocodile and pelicans in Lake Chamo, Ethiopia. The Rift Valley is considered one of the most fragile ecosystems in Ethiopia, with wetlands offering vital feeding and layover sites for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds (Image: MauritsV via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

National Ecosystem Assessments in Vietnam and Ethiopia have played a significant role in synthesising and communicating complex information about wetland ecosystems in these countries, meeting the information needs of policymakers and stakeholders of relevant sectors to counter ecosystem degradation and prevent ecosystem collapse. Recognising the ecological importance of wetlands and their benefits to societies and economies is an important step to protecting these habitats and the many species that depend on them.

The National Ecosystem Assessment Initiative (NEA Initiative) at UNEP-WCMC is part of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Network (BES-Net), working in partnership with UNDP and UNESCO. Financial support for the NEA Initiative is being provided by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety, and Consumer Protection of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Norwegian Environmental Agency, the Japan Biodiversity Fund, and SwedBio.

An earlier version of this article was first published by the National Ecosystem Assessment Initiative.

Main image: An egret wades through water in Vietnam (Image: Huy Nguyen / Unsplash)

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