The world’s wetlands are slipping away. This vibrant sanctuary underscores the stakes.chevron-down

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It’s been 50 years since an international treaty to protect wetlands was created but, around the world, wetlands are still disappearing three times faster than forests.

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In the lush, bright-green thickets of the Philippine’s Agusan Marsh, nestled in the country’s far south Mindanao island, children steer canoes through meandering waterways and swim in lakes.

The marsh is a playground, as well as a source of food, shelter, and culture for the Manobo Indigenous tribe that lives there in moored floating houses that rise and fall with the rainy seasons. For hundreds of years, this wetland ecosystem has been a veritable paradise for the Manobo people who make a living there hunting and fishing. The more than 100,000 inland acres is also home to nearly 200 species of birds, as well as mammals, reptiles, and fish living in the region.

The Agusan Marsh represents everything wetlands can offer—storm protection, food security, biodiversity, carbon storage—but also the large challenges they face.

Upstream pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction threaten the sanctity of this ecosystem. Pollutants from mining operations and palm oil plantations compromise water quality, and critical, carbon-rich peatlands are being drained and burned to make room for more palm oil, rice, and corn.

Fifty years ago today, on February 2, 1971, representatives of 18 nations meeting in Ramsar, Iran, adopted the Convention on Wetlands, also called the Ramsar Convention, a treaty aimed at conserving wetlands around the world. Today, 171 countries have signed the treaty. But since 1971, more than 35 percent of the world’s wetlands have been drained for urban development or agriculture, polluted, paved over, or lost to sea level rise.

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