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Bay Area wetlands now even more special

February isn’t just for celebrating groundhogs, presidents and sweethearts. It’s also that special time of year to come together and honor our ecologically valuable waterways on World Wetlands Day.

Since 1971, WWD honors an international treaty to protect a group of waterways, and it reached a new level of poignancy this year for the Bay Area when the San Francisco Bay estuary and several associated wetlands in Marin were officially added to the list.

On Saturday, those Bay Area locales officially became the country’s 35th “wetland of importance” under the treaty known as the Ramsar Convention, putting it in the company of protected wetlands in 163 countries. The treaty seeks to limit development along ecologically important waterways and hopefully increase conservation and restoration efforts. Take that, hungry real estate developers.

Of course, we can’t get ahead of ourselves and say the Bay Area shorelines and waterways are safe from any urban encroachment.

Legally speaking, the designation doesn’t signify new protections for habitat and wildlife in the bay, but it symbolically elevates the importance of the wetlands at a time when funding for restoration and wildlife rehabilitation is sorely needed. Furthermore, it shows that the country is actively committed to not promoting projects that alter designated ecosystems.

So while it’s not technically illegal, pretty much anyone looking to threaten these now internationally recognized treasures with development plans is going to come across as seriously jaded and calloused.

Besides, who wouldn’t be inspired to ramp up their efforts to protect the San Francisco Bay Estuary? At about 400,000 acres, it’s the largest on the Pacific Coast and is widely recognized as one of the country’s most ecologically valuable estuaries. It makes up 77 percent of California’s wetlands, is home to a diverse range of plants and animals, and provides a host of ecological services such as flood protection.

Additionally, numerous waterways and wetlands in Marin are part of the designation, including Richardson Bay, Angel Island and China Camp, which all have their own points of pride.

While pressures to facilitate economic growth and a swelling population may persist, this designation can serve as a reminder that conservation, responsibility and restoration will keep our wetlands worth celebrating.

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