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On World Wetlands Day Joburg City Parks and Zoo run programmes to educate the public on why wetlands are important to the environment, and how to rehabilitate and conserve them, for the health of the planet.

IN 1968, Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist, scholar and statesman, said in a speech at the General Assembly of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, in New Delhi, India, that, "In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught."

To this end, World Wetlands Day is an annual event to highlight the important role wetlands play in the environment, and how to help conserve and rehabilitate them.

What is a wetland?
Wetlands are areas where the soil is saturated with water, for most or part of the year, and are amazing habitats supporting aquatic plants, and a hugely diverse array of animals; from birds to frogs and more.

Wetlands are not isolated environments; much like large forests are the planet's "lungs", they are the world's "kidneys". They act like sponges, filtering contaminants out of water and releasing the cleaner water to surrounding areas when rainfall is low, or soaking it up when rainfall is high. They are effective bulk wards against destructive flooding, soaking up large volumes of water, and help keep rivers clean.

On 2 February 1971 the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was signed in Iran, but World Wetlands Day was celebrated for the first time in 1997. The Ramsar Convention is a" framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources". The 2014 World Wetlands Day theme is: Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners in Growth. The theme emphasises the importance of the wetland, agriculture and water sectors to work together to ensure that wetlands are conserved.

In South Africa, The Department of Environmental Affairs has urged all South Africans to get involved in wetland conservation and restoration. Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo annually observes World Wetlands Day by raising public awareness on the benefits of restoring and retaining the habitats' integrity.

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo commemorate the day by hosting pupils from 20 schools at curriculum-based educational programmes at the Dorothy Nyembe Park and the Zoo Environmental Educational Centres. The programmes are designed to teach students about the importance of wetlands and how they can contribute to their conservation.

The programmes will culminate in a gathering at Diepkloof Extreme Park. Attendees will include dignitaries, Joburg City Parks and Zoo employees, teachers and pupils, and community members young and old.