Yesterday, February 2nd was World Wetlands Day, so I thought it would be a good idea to get down and delve a little bit into what wetlands really are, why they are so vital for the planet and the good things and victories happening in the scope of wetland conservation. I feel like sometimes we can get caught up in all the sh*t happening in the world and be focused so much on the fight that we forget to celebrate and see the good things happening around us. I also realised that I (and some of you might feel the same) don't even really know that much about wetlands despite living in an area that is surrounded by wetlands! Thus, I decided on this very fine Monday morning (actually I'm writing this on Sunday on actual World Wetlands Day) to bring you this blog post full of interesting facts, knowledge and good positive news - nobody wants to start their week with a black cloud of doom gloom news!
What is a Wetland?
A wetland is classified as an area of land covered, partially covered, or flooded by either salty or fresh water. It is not, however, the same as an ocean, river, lake etc, as the amount of water in a wetland is usually quite shallow, meaning plants can grow without being drowned. Depending on the type of wetland it may not be flooded the whole year round, some wetlands could actually be described as 'dry' - I know, totally contradicts the name, like WETland, right? Emphasis on the 'wet'. But nature is never predictable!
Wetlands come in all different forms, from bogs and marshes to deltas, rice fields and even some coral reefs can be considered wetlands. From the polar regions to the tropics, from high altitudes to dry regions, wetlands can be found in every country in every climate zone. This means that they are vital components to life on Earth and provide some of the most productive habitats.
Who Lives in a Wetland?
There are hundreds of different plant and animal species that call wetlands home. Depending on the type of wetland and where in the world it is located, the flora and fauna will differ but the diversity in life remains the same. From grasses and reeds to lilies and big trees such as Eucalyptus, Oak and Tea-Tree, as well as the famous mangrove, can all be found living happy lives in wetlands.
Wetlands provide permanent homes for thousands of animals, but also act as a pit-stop for migratory animals, such birds and fish, as well as a breeding ground and nursery to many a parent. Animals like ducks, geese, bats, swamp rats, platypus, turtles, snakes and even alligators, crocodiles and tigers can be found in wetlands.
The Amazing Power of Wetlands
Wetlands are the water filters of the Earth. They trap pollutants, such as phosphorous and heavy metals in their soils, convert dissolved nitrogen into nitrogen gas and break down toxic solids to neutralize the harmful bacteria. They also have the incredible ability to sequester large amounts of Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the U.S, alone, coastal wetlands can offset the yearly carbon emissions of 800,000 cars. Wetlands are much more efficient at capturing carbon than the ocean and even trees. Despite covering only 2% of the ocean surface, coastal wetlands are expected to sequester 50% of the carbon absorbed by oceans per year, plus they balance the levels of carbon in their soils at rates up to 100 times higher than that of trees.
The Not So Good....
Yes, I know I said I wouldn't talk about the bad stuff, but I do feel its important to shed a bit of light on this and also to give some context to what I'll be talking about after this. Don't worry I'll keep it short!
So being a smart and conscious person, you've probably already figured out that climate change will ultimately be having its impact on wetlands. With sea levels rising some wetlands around the globe are experiencing complete flooding, meaning that there is too much water for the plants to survive. This has resulted in the drowning and loss of much of the mangrove species. In other parts of the world wetlands can be experiencing drought and extreme dryness, destroying estuaries, flood plains and marshes.
Of course, us humans have our impacts as well and devastatingly studies show that over 50% of world wetlands have disappeared since 1900. There is only so much crap that wetlands can filter and the leaching of toxic chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides as well as run off from agricultural and industrial practices cause immense harm to this ecosystem.
Not All is Lost!!
I know, you may be going down the dark rabbit hole now, but let me stop you right there with a bunch of reasons we can celebrate for World Wetlands Day!
1. Recent studies by the Marine Biological Laboratory in the University of Chicago show that wetlands WILL prevail despite climate change! According to MBL Ecosystems Center scientist, Jianwu Tang, “Even though sea level will continue to rise at different rates [from location to location], sediment accrual rates in coastal wetlands will outpace sea level rise, ”. This means that the amount of new land being created will be at a higher rate than sea level rise which means that wetland flooding will be less severe, allowing them to still function as vital habitats and play their roles in water and air filtration.
2. The same study also showed that the carbon sequestered by the wetlands will not be released but rather stay trapped as new sediment is piled on top.
3. In November 2017, the government of Manitoba introduced a new Bill titled the Sustainable Watersheds Act, which extends to include protection of certain classes of wetland in the area.
4. In January 2020, Florida announced that it will be purchasing over 800 hectares of land to save from oil drilling.
So you see its not all bad news, there is so much good happening too, and that's what we need to focus on. The more you focus on the good, the more good you will see, do and attract!
Well, I truly hope you learned something new, I certainly did and I'm so glad to be able to share this kind of information with you all. If you know of anyone who would enjoy this article or might find some value in it please share do share it - the more we can spread awareness, education and inspiration the more change we can create!
Wishing you a fantabulous week ahead full of goodness!
P.S, if you're in the Garden Route area and want to get involved in some action for our beautiful wetlands here in Knysna then please join us for our Island Adventure Clean up this Saturday February 8th at the Thesen Harbour Jetties. You can sign up via the Facebook event or RSVP by contacting me.
I hope to see you there!
Bye for now, xx