Julien Monney is a fisherman on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. He is one of more than 660 million people around the world that make a living from fishing. He is among the billion that depend on wetlands as a source of income.

World Wetlands Day is celebrated around the world every year to highlight the numerous benefits wetlands provide people and the planet. The theme for 2016, under the banner Wetlands for our Future, is "Sustainable Livelihoods" – selected to demonstrate the vital role of wetlands for the current and future wellbeing of humanity.

More than 800 events are taking place around the world to celebrate the value of wetlands for livelihoods, and to define ways to promote the wise use of all wetland types, which include peatlands, mangroves, marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, saltwater marshes, estuaries, lagoons and coral reefs.

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Jobs that depend on healthy wetlands

Rice farming – 80 per cent of the world’s rice is produced by small-scale farmers and is consumed locally. Almost a billion households in Asia, Africa and the Americas depend on rice growing and processing for their main livelihoods.

Tourism and leisure – An estimated half of international tourists seek relaxation in wetland areas, especially coastal zones. The travel and tourism sectors support 266 million jobs, and account for 8.9 per cent of the world’s employment.

Transport – Rivers and inland waterways play a vital role in transporting goods and people in many parts of the world. In the Amazon basin, 12 million passengers and 50 million tonnes of freight are moved each year, by 41 different shipping companies.

Water provision – Vast networks deliver fresh water and treat wastewater around the world, while employing significant workforces. For example, Bangkok’s Metropolitan Waterworks Authority employs over 5,300 staff. The bottled water industry delivered over 70 billion gallons of water worldwide in 2013. Danone sells major brands such as Evian and Volvic, Bonafont and Mizone, and employs more than 37,000 people in its water businesses worldwide.

Traditional handicrafts – Harvesting and processing plants, fruits, reeds and grasses also provide significant employment directly in or near wetlands, especially in developing countries.

Fishing – More than 660 million people rely on fishing and aquaculture for a living; most commercial fish breed or spawn in coastal wetlands, and 40 per cent of all fish consumed is raised in aquaculture. 

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Moving away from a vicious circle that destroys wetlands

Despite all the jobs and other vital benefits that wetlands provide, 64 per cent of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900. The wetlands that still remain are often so degraded that the people who directly rely on wetlands for their living – often the very poor – are driven into even deeper poverty. In addition, by 2025 it is estimated that 35 per cent of people will directly face declining water supplies. This is the result of a point of view that mistakenly sees wetlands as wasteland.

Working towards a virtuous cycle of sustainable use of wetlands

Enabling people to make a decent living while ensuring that wetlands continue to provide freshwater, biodiversity, food and their many other benefits are not conflicting goals. In fact, the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals underline that reducing poverty requires us to protect and restore ecosystems such as wetlands. 

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How can you participate in World Wetlands Day?

Visit a wetland; get to know the local communities and how they wisely use this ecosystem. There are over 2200 sites around the world designated as Wetlands of International Importance protected for the benefits they provide to their country and the world.

Participate in the youth photo competition, from February 2 to March 2, open to anyone aged 15 to 24 years. Capture an image showing how “wetlands are essential for sustainable livelihoods,” and upload up to three photos to the World Wetlands Day website. The winner of the photo contest will enjoy a free flight to visit a wetland anywhere in the world, courtesy of Star Alliance.

Happy World Wetlands Day!

- By The Ramsar Convention, the world’s oldest environmental convention signed in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran, that brings together 169 countries with a shared mission to ensure the wise use of wetlands. The Ramsar Convention has a proven track record in working with individual countries, private sector companies and non-governmental organisations to protect and restore wetlands for global water security. 

All facts and figures from below sources.

– This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.