World Wetlands Day helps bring attention to the wonder and importance of wetlands that are among the most diverse and productive of Earth’s living systems - Photo:canva.com
Columban missionaries find many ways to reflect on the marvels of creation and accept the challenge to help take better care of our Earthly home.
World Wetlands Day is commemorated each year on 2nd February to mark the adoption of the International Convention on Wetlands in 1971 that took place in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Australia is a signatory to the international Convention on Wetlands and currently has sixty-six sites designated as wetlands of international importance, known as Ramsar Sites.
World Wetlands Day helps bring attention to the wonder and importance of wetlands that are among the most diverse and productive of Earth’s living systems. There are many types of wetlands including lakes, rivers, underground springs, swamps, tidal flats and coral reefs, in addition to human made wetlands such as reservoirs and rice paddies. Wetlands are referred to as cradles of biological diversity that provide water and essential produce for humans and countless species of plants and animals. Wetlands also purify water, help regulate the climate and provide coastal protection. In their own right, they are places of beauty and value, and have profound cultural meaning for Indigenous people around the world. The wise use of wetlands involves comprehensive approaches that consider the whole system and its interactions, for the benefit of all. World Wetlands Day 2023 says it’s time for wetland restoration.
Wetlands are disappearing and are currently recognized as among the most threatened ecosystems around the world. Threats to wetlands come from urban development, draining for agriculture, over extraction of water, pollution and climate change. Here in Australia, the 2021 State of the Environment Report finds the health of wetlands is poor and deteriorating. The Australian Government’s 2022-2032 Threatened Species Action Plan: Towards Zero Extinctions has a new set of goals and action areas to help recover threatened species and fragmented ecological communities, including wetlands.
Columban missionaries recognize critical opportunities to be involved in protecting and restoring biological diversity in their work on the ground and up to the international level. Columban missionaries believe that all people are called to mutual care and respect for the interconnectedness of life. Interdependence in the web of life means everything is related and relies upon everything else to survive and flourish.
Community is an essential focus for people of faith. It is natural then, to extend our attention and commitment to include the whole network of God’s creation. The local community is a place where anyone can become curious and get to know more about ecology. In recognition of World Wetland Day 2023, a Columban worker went along to a working bee hosted by a local wetland restoration group to do just that. The event brought together a band of people of all ages, with various levels of knowledge and experience. Amidst the banter of enthusiastic conversation, local indigenous seeds were sewn into pots and ground-cover seedlings ready for planting out found their new home amongst a stand of mature trees. The wetland restoration group of volunteers has made awe inspiring progress to restore indigenous flora and fauna and provide many benefits for the local community. The World Wetlands Day working bee was an opportunity to get outside to learn, contribute, enjoy companionship and admire the beautiful surrounds.
The authors of the Values, Culture and Spirituality: Ecosystems Restoration Conversation Guide produced by the United Religions Initiative and the International Centre for Earth Ethics befittingly say,
“Modernity has encouraged us to think and act as individuals, but as a species, it is not who we are. When we recognize ourselves as part of nature, we remember that we have always belonged to a much bigger, more ancient story. Together, we are stronger, more creative, and more resilient. Earth restoration, therefore, is a spiritual act. Caring for Earth moves us away from isolation, into belonging and relatedness.”
This message is especially pertinent for communities that are highly industrialized, where people have often become detached from the wider community of life.
The Grace of Place on-line resource prepared by St Columbans Mission Society says,
“Having a sense of place is an essential part of existence of all species, human and non-human. By connecting to place we can learn deep listening and find God revealed there. We can meditate in wonder at the diversity of life. We can reflect in sadness that Earth, our common home is suffering.”
The resource explores having a heightened sense of place within the wider community of life, to support growth in reverence and care for all creation. (see resource below)
Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM
Peace, Ecology and Justice Office
Columban Mission Centre, Essendon
- Lenten Resource - Year C: “The Grace of Place”