The facts and figures are clear. Deforestation has plunged the planet into a crisis. At the pace we’re going, climate activists and scientists warn that our forests could be gone in a century.
But it’s worse for our wetlands. A whole lot worse. Recent studies note that the world’s wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. And make no mistake, Earth needs its wetlands.
Wetlands — areas of marsh, fen or peatland covered in water — aren’t all alike, of course. Indeed, the ecosystems vary significantly depending on the region.
Yet, regardless of location, development and pollution have wreaked massive havoc on our wetlands to the point that 35% has already been lost in the past 50 years.
With these sobering stats in mind, the United Nations, in conjunction with World Wetlands Day on Feb 2 this year, is urging immediate action to stem the losses and reverse the devastation.
But why are wetlands so important? And just what impact do they have?
Well, here are five answers:
Thriving wildlife sanctuaries
Wetlands often have a reputation as home to creepy crawlies, dangerous reptiles and slimy amphibians.
Yet, the truth is they also serve as habitats for thousands of other species of fauna, many of which are endangered.
The sad reality is that if nothing is done to arrest ongoing threats, animal residents as well as the numerous visiting bird and aquatic species that use wetlands as breeding and nesting grounds might face the end.
As it is, the widespread loss of marshes and swamps has resulted in an alarming dip in dragonfly populations, with the gorgeous flying insects that have outlived dinosaurs and mammoths now on the brink of extinction.
The world’s water purifiers
Animals aside, wetlands are productive ecosystems with biodiverse populations that not only produce tremendous volumes of food via complex food chains but also clean and store water.
Essentially, pollutants flow off the land and make their way to downstream water bodies and wetlands. Contaminants get absorbed by the natural vegetation and microbes in these ecosystems and purified.
Natural wetlands are so important to water purification, that in places like New York City, they play an active role in supplying the American state’s reservoirs.
Climate change mitigators
Greenhouse gas emissions have increased massively over the years, with 2021 notching yet another unwanted record.
Still, scientists say there are ways out of the climate crisis — one approach is to lean on our wetlands’ natural ability to capture and store carbon.
Globally, wetlands, especially peatland, store up to a third of the Earth’s emissions. Regrettably, however, as more of these natural carbon skins are destroyed, tonnes more greenhouse gases get released into the atmosphere.
Natural flood defence systems
In addition to their unique ability to absorb greenhouse gases, wetlands also serve as sponges and tubs that trap storm and floodwaters.
Now, the ways in which the various wetlands function in this respect differ based on their unique locations. However, what they all essentially do is temporarily store excess surface water.
Coastal wetlands are especially adept at this and are known for being able to protect against the effects of tidal waves, tropical cyclones and other climatic events.
Studies have found that these ecosystems offer even more protection than expensive, artificial seawalls.
Sources of untapped economic value
US$47 trillion yearly! That’s the dollar value of the world’s wetlands!
While it’s true that preserving mangroves, peatland and the like won’t immediately boost the global economy, numerous studies note how nations and regions can actually derive tremendous economic value from their wetlands.
For example, more than a billion people worldwide depend on rice grown in wetland paddies as a source of livelihood.
Now, add to that the thriving tourism sector as well as fishing and aquaculture, and the truth of the matter is that there is much money to be made.
Unfortunately, while some countries are waking up to the reality of wetlands being important to countering the effects of climate change, too few understand their economic worth.
The hope, however, is that more efforts are made to recognize the worth of wetlands. Because we really can’t afford to lose them!
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE