While once widespread, wetlands are rapidly vanishing. Often viewed as unproductive wastelands, wetlands are regularly drained, filled, and converted into agricultural and grazing land or industrial and urban areas, which greatly diminishes their quality and productivity. According to scientists, an estimated 1.3 million square miles of wetlands have been lost globally, an area about the size of Alaska, Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, and Texas combined. While modern legislation and regulation have significantly slowed wetland loss, the United States continues to lose roughly 60,000 acres annually.
What are Wetlands?
Highly productive and biologically diverse, a wetland is a distinct ecosystem saturated by water, either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands are transitional lands between terrestrial and aquatic systems, such as bogs, fens, lagoons, marshes, mudflats, and swamps. With their uniquely adapted vegetation, watery (hydric) soil, and stagnant or slow-flowing water systems, wetlands are regarded as biological supermarkets, nature’s nurseries, and the kidneys of the environment.
Why Wetlands are Important
- Considered the kidneys of the environment, wetlands can filter and clean water. Water flow slows down when entering a wetland, allowing sediments to settle out. Pesticides and other contaminants are broken down by light and bacteria. Excessive nutrients from fertilizers, manure, municipal sewage, and urban runoff, are also absorbed by plants and microorganisms.
- Wetlands are nature’s nurseries that provide critical space for developing aquatic insects, birds, fish, frogs, snakes, and turtles. Abundant plant cover and shallow water make wetlands a good place to hide and forage as the rich food supply gets babies off to a good start.
- As biological supermarkets, wetlands provide an immense volume of food that attracts a diverse mix of species, creating extensive food chains, food webs, and rich biodiversity. In addition, wetlands sustain the life cycle of 75% of the fish and shellfish commercially harvested in the U.S., and up to 90% of the recreational fish catch. They also reduce the frequency and intensity of flooding by absorbing and storing significant amounts of floodwater.
Learn About Wetlands
Locate and explore a local wetland. Find a wetland proximate to your city or town and go on a discovery. Consider taking your binoculars, camera, canoe, kayak, and rubber boots.
Speak with a professional. Reach out to experts at a local college or university, a conservation group, or maybe pick up a relevant book. This is a step in the right direction toward awareness.
Take action. Look for volunteer activities to do your part for the environment.
Learn something you didn’t know about wetlands. For example, did you know:
- Wetlands are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet.
- More than half of North America’s bird species nest and feed in wetlands.
- Wetlands can store up to fifty times more carbon compared to rainforests.
Read more information about our natural resources at www.aces.edu.