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The Mesmerizing World of Freshwater Wetlands

Updated: Dec 21, 2023


Aerial view of a wetland
Aerial view of a wetland. Photo credit: Pixabay.com

So, what are freshwater wetlands anyway? According to the U.S Geographical Survey, “wetlands are transitional areas, sandwiched between permanently flooded deep water environments and well-drained uplands where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water”. Wetlands cover a large surface area of Earth and the most common feature shared by them is that the soil is covered or saturated by water most of the time. The water can be fresh, salty, or in-between. Typical examples of freshwater wetlands are mangroves, lagoons, lakes, marshes (salt, brackish, intermediate, and fresh), swamps, forested wetlands, bogs, wet prairies, prairie potholes, and vernal pools. Vernal pools are seasonal pools or ponds of water that sustain, like all wetlands, distinct flora, and fauna. As we shall see, wetlands are one of the most precious realms of our earth. They harbor a staggering number of diversified plants, animals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Wetlands link organisms on land and in water in a way that allows them to co-exist together for years.


Wetland Flora

Wetland plants, also known as hydrophytes, are specifically adapted to grow in water. They can be submerged, floating, or have their roots firmly embedded in one place. Examples of few wetland species of plants are cattails, water lilies, bluetongue, sedges, tamarisk, and many kinds of rush. Wetland plants are adapted to the saturated conditions that persist for most of the year.


Coastal mangroves are hugely important because they store enormous quantities of “blue carbon”. Blue carbon is the carbon that is stored naturally by marine and coastal ecosystems. A healthy blue carbon ecosystem means a healthy carbon-free environment, while controlling the associated biodiversity.


Mangroves
Mangroves. Photo credit: Unsplash/Muhammadh Saamy
 

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Wetland Fauna

All types of water birds like ducks, geese, cranes, heron, kingfishers, and sandpipers, both resident and some migrant, depend on wetlands for their survival. Mammals such as otters, beavers, alligators, muskrats, crocodiles live, eat, and gambol in them. Then of course, there are myriad species of fish, snakes, and invertebrates. Wetlands provide food, water, cover, and nesting sites to all types of animals, birds, and insects. One has to just watch the playful otters in fresh, pure water of wetlands to appreciate how important these wetlands are for the wellbeing of all denizens of wetland wild kingdom. As we shall see in the next section, indeed, the wetlands are indispensable habitats around our globe. By keeping the water and air pollution free, they ensure that the essential requirements such as food, clean water, and clean air are always available to all species all the time in their habitat.

Capybara and comb-crested jacana
Capybara and comb-crested jacana. Photo credit: Pixabay.com

North American River Otter
North American River Otter. Photo credit: Pixabay.com/ Andreas Schanti

Why Are the Wetlands Important?

The wetlands do wonders for the health of the Earth. Wetlands trap pollutants such as phosphorus and heavy metals in their soils and transform nitrogen into a form that's easier for plants to absorb. They physically and chemically break down dangerous bacteria. The healthier plants keep the ambient or surrounding air fresh by soaking up carbon resulting in a treasure house of pure water and clean air. In fact, these water plants can absorb 50 times more carbon compared to a rainforest of similar size!


Wetlands also sink leaves, debris, animal waste, and other carbon laden matter that is detrimental to the health of the habitat. Wetlands also mitigate large flood events. They, if untouched by humans, grow remarkably fast and live long.


Why Is it Crucial to Protect the Wetlands Worldwide?


Like the rest of the biomes found on our earth, the story is the same unfortunately. Uncontrolled pollution, climate change, indiscriminate construction of dams, agriculture, aquaculture, and land development for housing continue to plague the wetlands.


If the wetlands are not saved, not only will the wildlife habitat be destroyed but towns and cities will need to spend more money to filter water for drinking. Cities, especially the ones closer to the coastal areas, will have no protection against typhoons and hurricanes. Fisheries and timber resources will dwindle. Wetlands do many things for the earth—take a second, pause, and take in all the good they provide us and help keep them protected by doing your part.


A comb-crested jacana chick amongst water lilies
A comb-crested jacana chick amongst water lilies. Photo credit: needpix.com

Did you know?

· According to WWF (World Wildlife Fund), today, there are more than 2,400 wetlands covering a whopping 630,000,000 acres worldwide. These wetlands were designated areas of International Importance. About 87% of world’s wetlands have been destroyed in the past 300 years by humans. Just imagine!


· At 42 million acres, the Pantanal, covering Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay is the world’s largest tropical wetland.


· Per Ramsar Convention Secretariat, Switzerland (Ramsar.org), about 17% wetland birds, 38% freshwater mammals, 33% freshwater fish, 26% freshwater amphibians, 72% freshwater turtles, 86% marine turtles, 43% crocodilians, and 27% coral reef building species are threatened today.


· More than half of 800 species of protected migratory birds stop in the various wetlands of USA to take rest, feed, and breed.


 

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