World Wetlands Day & the International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Published: 2023-02-28

In our first blog post of the year, IFS interim director and chair of the IFS board of trustees, Dr Patrick Van Damme, concisely summarised our past year; both world wise and IFS wise. To turn 2023 into a fruitful and joyous year, we all need to do “one’s share”. For IFS, our “share” is to continue supporting early career researchers so that they can perform their research. Research that, in the longer term, contributes to improving this world.

As said in the last blog post, we will focus on specific UN days in our blog and social media by highlighting current and former IFS grantees and their research.

February started with World Wetlands Day, February 2nd. This year’s theme was Wetlands Restoration and highlighted the urgent need to protect remaining wetlands and rehabilitate or recover those that have been damaged or lost. Did you know that 40% of all plant and animal species in the world live or breed in wetlands? Or that wetlands are significant for the climate since they store carbon up to 55 times faster than tropical rain forests? Despite their importance for the world, wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests.   

IFS supports several researchers whose projects are focused on wetlands, and we are happy to present Dr Rodgers Makwinja, in Malawi, and his research project “Elephant Marsh wetland ecosystem services under changing catchment; implication on management and restoration effort”. His research was highlighted on our social media channels February 2nd. Dr Makwinja describing the importance of his research stated:

 Dr Rodgers Makwinja“In Malawi, ecosystem provisioning services derived from wetlands underpin the local population's livelihood sustenance. It is also apparent that various wetland ecosystem services are linked to Malawi's national policies. For example, water supply is linked to agriculture, irrigation, and water and sanitation policies; wetland and landscape plants and forestry are linked to national climate change and forestry policies; fisheries resources are linked to national multisector nutritional and aquaculture and fisheries policies; wetland landscape is linked to land and agriculture policies. These national policies align with the United Nations (UN) 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and African Union Agenda 2063 and underpin the livelihood sustenance of 80% of the local population. Should the wetland ecosystem collapse, this local population will have limited alternative livelihood options – suggesting that studies focusing on upscaling wetland ecological restoration are imperative to achieve the UN SDGs and African Union Agenda 2063.

The goal of the Malawi government is to complement the United Nations Agenda 2030 in upscaling the ecological restoration effort and achieving the Aichi Biodiversity targets. In 2016, the Elephant Marsh on the Shire River basin was granted RAMSAR status, joining Lake Chilwa ratified in 1997 as a wetland of international importance. The RAMSAR Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Since then, Elephant Marsh Wetland has been prioritized in the Malawi National Research agenda, and a series of studies, including hydro morphological historical reconstruction of biodiversity, biodiversity assessments, ecosystem services, local livelihoods, and identification of threats and opportunities, have been conducted under the Shire River Basin Management program funded by the World Bank, the International Development Association of the World Bank, the Global Environmental Facility, and the Least Developed Countries Fund. Among specific indigenous plant and animal species identified from these studies include trees like East African afrormosia, East African mahogany, and African bleedwood, reptiles like the Nile crocodile and leopard tortoise, various endemic fish species, birds like the African skimmer, the African black duck and the steppe eagle, and also mammals like the hippo.

Despite these efforts, Elephant Marsh wetland still experiences unprecedented ecological degradation due mainly to deforestation, soil erosion, siltation in a network of river systems flowing into the wetland, declining fish populations, frequent flooding, overfishing, poaching, and encroachment. The priority concerns, also identified by the local communities, include a decline in aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity in the wetland instigated by unsustainable exploitation by the communities, invasion of water hyacinth, and water quality degradation – worsening already existing ecological challenges. Considering the role of wetlands in contributing towards the UN SDGs, The International Foundation of Science (IFS) supports the United Nations agenda 2030, which underpins the need to upscale wetland ecological restoration (UN, 2019). It supports research that focuses on developing better wetland restoration indicators and promotes sectoral policy conflict resolution while exploiting the ground evidence to support the wetland ecological restoration programs. The foundation further supports the idea that wetland ecosystem restoration should be among the key priorities in the international research agenda to recover most of their ecosystem services and functions and eradicate poverty. The Elephant Marsh wetland ecological restoration project funded by IFS is framed under this precept. The project's strategic objective is to provide practical wetland ecosystem governance and landscape planning. The practical idea is to create coherence between conservation science and practical policy responses and guides strategic plans to conserve, restore and enhance wetland ecosystem functions while improving local communities' resilience and achieving Aichi Biodiversity Targets and several UN SDGs. We aim to promote evidence-based policies to bring meaningful interventions and upscale the effort to restore health wetland ecological status through action research.”

February 11th was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. IFS puts a lot of effort into strengthening women researchers. We know that it in general is more difficult for women than men to move upwards on the ladder of research development.

Schematic diagram shows the gender distribution& scissors effect

This schematic diagram shows the gender distribution within career stages in science, known as the scissors effect. While more than half of the undergraduate students are women, the percentage of women in academia drops with rising rank.

The IFS gender strategy contributes to closing this gender scissors effect in different ways. A recent example is the personalised support where a group of expert facilitators supported women applicants through an online chat forum and in an online workshop. It is essential to include men in seeing and realizing the gender inequalities and norms that inhibit many women to thrive in science. Therefore, IFS in the yearly welcoming ceremony for new grantees (men and women), is taking the gender theme up for discussion.

To end up this month’s blog post, I would like to present former IFS grantee Dr Edem Mahu, currently working as a Marine Biogeochemist at the University of Ghana. 

Dr Edem Mahu

Dr Mahu’s IFS research project had the title: “Human health risk assessment and evaluation of biological impacts of trace metal Pollution in major Ghanaian estuaries and nearshore environments”. Dr Mahu’s words describing her research: “The goal of my research is to evaluate the ecosystem and human health implications of polluting the coastal environment with heavy metals. Funds received from the IFS helped me to reach this goal through collection of fish from five estuaries in Ghana to determine the heavy metal levels in them for human health risk assessment. I also used parts of the funds to carry out an acute mercury toxicity assay on shrimp larvae in the laboratory.”

In her Project Completion Report, Dr Mahu expresses the importance of an IFS grant:

“Through the IFS-supported project, we now have very important information regarding seafood safety as far as seafood consumption in Ghana is concerned. I have been hosted on a radio programme in the country where I had the opportunity of discussing the relevant findings of the IFS-supported research to the people of Ghana. On this show, I discussed the impact of heavy metal pollution on seafood safety and security in Ghana based on data collected through the IFS-supported research.”

“My ability to win major grants started with my IFS project. In writing for all these proposals, I stated my past involvement and experience in research activities through support from the IFS. The IFS research prepared me for all these grants. Hence for me, the IFS support gave me the solid foundation needed to advance my career.”

Thank you,

Jill Wallin, IFS



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