wetlands should be celebrated for their rich biodiversity, multiple services they deliver which help keep our planet and society going as well as for their extraordinarily beautiful landscapes. If you want to change your mind completely about what a swamp, a marsh or a bog actually look like or do, then continue reading to find out some astonishing facts about wetlands¹,²,³,⁴!
- If you thought that it is trees and forests that can mainly capture carbon from the atmosphere, you are forgetting the great work that peat wetlands are doing. More specifically, peat wetlands alone store more carbon in their soil than rainforests do. This means that they store a third of the world’s total carbon but only take up 3% of the world’s surface. Pretty effective biomes!
- Wetlands are formed where land meets water but most of us think of wetlands as areas were water is smelly and stagnates. In reality, wetlands play a critical role in helping to clean our drinking water. You will be amazed to find out that they can remove up to 60% of metals contained in the water, trap and retain up to 90% of sediment from runoff and eliminate up to 90% of nitrogen. Pretty impressive, right?
- Not only do they clean drinking water, but they also protect us from flooding. An acre of wetland can store up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater. This is because wetlands are able to store excess water from rainfall and release it water back into the ground where it becomes a source of drinking water for people. Most of other types of landscapes cannot absorb excess rainwater and runoff like wetlands can. Wetlands are one of our environment’s great successes when it comes to natural flood prevention mechanisms.
- Wetlands appear on every continent except for one: Antarctica. They can be made of freshwater, saltwater, or a combination of the two.
- Despite efforts, the world has lost about half its wetlands in the last 100 years. Most of the losses globally are due to wetlands being drained so that the land can be used in a different way, for example for agriculture or to be built upon.
- The decline of wetlands has negatively impacted a whole array of species. Over 75 of commercially harvested fish are wetland dependent while around half of all North American bird species nest or fee in wetlands. We need wetlands to maintain our biodiversity particularly as about a third of endangered species in the US rely directly or indirectly on wetlands for their survival. It is confounding how such biodiversity rich areas are commonly called “wastelands”!
- Some wetlands are actually dry at certain times of the year! Depending on the type of wetland, the area may be filled with trees, grasses, shrubs or moss; to be called a wetland it must be filled or soaked with water for at least part of each year.
So don’t forget to celebrate World Wetlands Day which occurs each year on 2 February in honour of the day that the Ramsar Wetlands Convention was signed in 1971. The Convention promotes the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands through international cooperation and to-date it has been able to designate over 1,990 sites as Wetlands of International Importance covering more than 474 million acres⁵.