News 2017

2017 SWS Annual Meeting Conference Report
Adrienne Dodd

The 2017 Society of Wetland Scientists Annual Meeting included presentations and posters from research all over the world, sessions I attended included research from Taiwan, China, Australia, The Virgin Islands, The Netherlands, and multiple regions of the United States. The conference highlighted the need for international cooperation in the protection and restoration of wetlands, as well as in expanding education of the important role wetlands play in controlling global greenhouse gas concentrations. Wetlands have been found to be one of the most effective carbon sinks in the world, but their pervasive destruction due to development and agriculture releases the built up gases which wetlands have absorbed and tucked away in their soil layers over the centuries. By promoting wetland research in every corner of the earth, and increasing education efforts, we, as members of the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS), will be able to make a lasting impact not only on local ecosystems and communities, but the entire world.

An important part of restoration and wetland loss mitigation is creating an understanding between both local people and governments and wetland ecosystem services. Creating wise-use plans that are integrated into the lives of local people is an important aspect of bridging the gap between wetlands and people. Three research projects occurred in China developing such wise-use plans for wetland ecosystems. One was in Changsha City, which was presented by Yiyi Xiong of Nanjing University Ecological Research Institute of Changshu, the second project was Sanshan Island Park, presented by Shuqing An, and the third was Dalian lake wetland located in Shanghai. All of these projects created restoration and conservation projects for polluted wetlands that addressed local issues such as poor water quality and flooding with wetland ecosystem services while creating eco-tourism sites that integrated not only the natural beauty of the wetlands, but were also integrated with local communities. These projects worked with local farmers to create a sustainable community whose main income was from ecotourism. In the Changshan City case in particular, native wetland species were grown and harvested from ponds that were connected to the wetland system. In order to improve water quality, pig waste that previously was dumped directly into the waterways was used for biogas and treated before being further filtered by a wetland system and then flowing into the waterway. These cases have become successful tourism sites and have reportedly improved water quality and the local economy.

Not all restoration projects are able to get funded as easily as the projects described in China, as profitable ecotourism is not possible everywhere. The Ramsar Convention has created many user-friendly guidance protocols for conducting restoration projects, but these guidances are still not able to provide practical information on how to conduct restoration projects using best practices to people in the field around the world. Some Ramsar sites, such as the Kilombero floodplain in Tanzania, are facing extreme degradation with immediate need of effective restoration plans. The restoration guidance was not known about and once it was introduced, was found to be insufficient for the level of restoration needed in the face of extreme poverty in the area. In general, a review of projects undertaken by Ramsar contracting parties showed that though over half are using guidelines provided, and there is good knowledge of wetlands, there was still a low level of knowledge about how to go about restoring wetlands. So the question arises, how can the Society of Wetland Scientists, and Ramsar, improve the situation on the ground in order to make sure knowledge of best practices reach those who need it on the ground.

As money is one of the largest problems restricting restoration projects, mitigation banking has become an important aspect of wetland restoration in the United States. But, it is based on wetland compensation programs and laws, where if a developer destroys a wetland, they have to then create or restore a wetland of similar size somewhere else. Ramsar and SWS are hesitant to support this style, as it allows for the destruction of wetlands in exchange for the creation of new wetlands that may not hold the same ecological value, or may not ever actually be completed. Fake, or half finished, mitigation projects, where they exist on paper more so than in any real sense, is a problem in these wetland compensation /mitigation programs. This style also does not lead to a positive increase in wetlands, but at the very best a zero gain zero loss situation. Because developers often do not know how to restore wetlands, wetland restoration companies have formed that buy land and restore them into wetland habitats, thereby gaining "credits" which then can be sold to companies whose new development has destroyed a wetland. These "banks" have resources to conduct good restoration projects, but, their money comes from the destruction of other wetlands, creating conflict amongst environmentalists on whether this system is truly positive or not.

The Annual Meeting allowed myself, and my colleagues, to meet and discuss the most recent research related to wetland restoration, wetland wise-use, and wetland science going on around the world. It was an honor to attend, and an honor to present my own research on Participatory Environmental Planning. I hope I am able to return next year and am excited to keep up with the new contacts I was able to make in this important field.

The SWS Annual Meeting allowed all colleagues to meet and discuss the most recent research related to wetland restoration, wetland wise-use, and wetland science with creativities and happiness in the world.

New Board has been elected for SWS leaders.

The 20th meeting of the Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP20) took place at the Secretariat’s headquarters in Gland, Switzerland from 13-17 February 2017.