WORLD WETLAND DAY:
Focus on Wetlands & Biodiversity
What are wetlands, anyways? They’re oft-thought of as watery areas that bring to mind images of swamps, bogs and unpassable muddy waters. In reality they are absolutely crucial, valuable and multifunctional habitats for much of our planet's biodiversity and play vital roles in preventing floods, cleaning waterways, providing food for us humans and even sequestering carbon.
In fact, they are so good at slowing global warming and reducing pollution that they have often been referred to as the "Kidneys of the Earth". They are uniquely identified as a “water-saturated soil that is subject to seasonal or permanent flooding” and make up only 6% of the Earth's surface. However, what they lack in size they make up for in abundance of biodiversity. Indeed, they are home to 40% of the world's plants and animals!
According to the definition set forth by The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (where World Wetland Day was recognized and signed into existence back in 1971) a wetland is usually a marsh, fen or peatland and can be either natural or artificial, with water that is either permanent or temporary. The water can be either stagnant or flowing and can be fresh, brackish or salt. It also includes areas of marine water that does not exceed the depth of six feet at low tide. This includes all of the planet's lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peat lands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves, coral reefs, as well as all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans.
Not only do wetlands provide a home to 40% of the world's flora and fauna and support a disproportionately high number of endangered species, they also serve as vital feeding and breeding grounds for migratory birds. Thus, they are incredibly important for migratory bird conservation efforts on a global scale. For example, the Banc d'Arguin National Park in Mauritania is one of the most important zones in the world for nesting birds and Palearctic migratory waders. Wetlands serve as key stopover sites for birds due to the plentiful food sources found there and relative safety from predators. On a more local level, the estuary in Nature's Valley is also classified as a wetland and is home to many birds that call it home, such as:
- Cape Cormorants
- Little Egrets
- African Darters
- African Fish Eagles
- 5 species of Kingfisher
- Grey, Purple Herons
- Black-crowned Night Herons
- Various Plovers, like the White-fronted Plover
- African Spoonbill
- Little Egret
- And tonnes more!
Wetlands are an incredibly important part of nature and are crucial for humans as well as all the animals and plants that depend on them for survival. Unfortunately, their numbers are declining globally at unprecedented rates - up to three times faster than forests due to human activities and global warming. They are in fact the most threatened ecosystem with an ever-accelerating rate of species extinction and the loss of wetlands due to development pressure has been enormous. It is estimated that we’ve already lost more than 50% of the world’s remaining wetlands since 1970, and with them went the fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.
One million more animal and plant species are threatened with extinction if something doesn’t change soon.
Considering they provide water and other resources for humans, protect us from flooding and act as giant filters easing pollution, we are ultimately hurting ourselves by eroding and destroying these areas that are teeming with life. Most importantly, we're not the only ones that depend on them. The incredible biodiversity that the wetlands support also call them their home. Biodiversity actually absorbs the direct blows of environmental problems (like land conversion) as well as indirect impacts (such as water quality, air quality, toxic substances, nitrogen pollution). Without the plants, animals, and water that wetlands provide, grave impacts on people around the world are now likely.
Fortunately, these ecosystems can be restored to generate benefits for people and nature. Many citizens, NGO’s and governments are working to reverse the current trends - but we are not doing enough. Here are some things you can do to help and/or raise awareness for yourself and others:
- Explore a wetland area near you and learn about their value
- Restore, conserve and promote wise use of all wetlands
- Use biodegradable products to clean your house (and yourself)
- Use organic products in your garden
- Save water – one drop wasted is a drop too much!
- Visit the Nature’s Valley estuary and see how many birds you can spot
- Tell others about the importance of wetlands – share this blog post
- Visit worldwetlandsday.org to find out more