Nigeria presently has eleven sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 1,076,728 hectares.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, recognizes the Lagos and Lekki Lagoons in the Coastal systems in the West of the Country.
Research shows that the prevalent wetlands in Lagos are the swamps and mangroves, while the Lekki Lagoon is the largest wetlands amongst others spread across areas such as Badagry, Ejigbo, Iju, Ikorodu, Itoikin, Orugbo and many more.
Flooding is an inevitable occurrence in Lagos State because of its low-lying topography as a coastal city and wetlands, commonly known as marshes, estuaries, mangroves, mudflats, mires, swamps, bogs, and lakes.
Experts say these wetlands have undergone severe spatial changes from rapid urbanization and series of human activities such as sand filling, excessive dredging, encroachment on natural drainage channels and acute deforestation and that at the current rate of depletion, the swamps of Lagos will be totally consumed within the next 40 years.
The experts warns that the potential dangers, including more severe flooding, bio-diversity loss of coastal vegetation and the fish population, soil degradation and increased risk of infectious human diseases are imminent, if wetlands are not properly conserved.
Professor Abiodun Denloye of the Department of Zoology and Environmental Biology at the Lagos State University, likened the jobs of wetlands to either the ecosystem or the kidney in the human body, warning that further depletion would be very dangerous.
“The kidney performs regulatory functions and regulates the human body, just as wetlands does for our environment, when a kidney pack up, dialysis and death are imminent, so therefore, we must conserve wetlands because they are just as important as kidneys to the body” Professor Abiodun Denloye said.
Highlighting additional benefits of wetland to include absorbing floodwaters, which help to alleviate property damage and may even save lives, great spots for fishing, hiking, bird-watching, as well as tourists and educational spots for people of all ages.
Prof Denloye said the National Theatre in Lagos should be developed to enhance its economic, aesthetics and educational values, while the Lagos State Government should enforce the laws against environmental degradation.
The Permanent Secretary in the Lagos State Ministry of Environment, Mrs Belinda Odeneye said the state government was aware of the dangers of losing its wetlands and as part of the solutions to the challenge, the State had commenced an advocacy and awareness campaign on Wetlands and Biodiversity Conservation for residents, the first in a series of engagements aimed at educating communities to ensure sustainable environment.
Mrs Odeneye said identification and categorizing of wetlands across the state was ongoing, while a policy on their preservation is being developed.
“The Ministry is developing a sector policy on wetland and Biodiversity management to ensure balanced development where the course of nature is adequately maintained into our development and planning” she revealed
She said additional sensitization programs and fencing of some of the unoccupied wetlands are being made to let residents know that wetlands are not waste lands and they should stop filling them with refuse.
Radio Nigeria engaged some residents of areas already sensitized by the state on their understanding of the function of wetlands.
The respondents listed their understanding of the wetlands to include water filtration, provision of flood and erosion control, home for herbs, flowering plants, fish and wildlife and expressed readiness to educate other community members on the need to desist from unnecessary conversion of wetlands in their vicinities.
State government has embarked on conservation education and awareness campaigns on the benefits of wetlands, it is expected that Lagos residents will be more circumspect in the way they treat wetlands in their areas.