Wetlands, what they are and their Importance

wetWetlands are best described as the link between the land and water masses, commonly referred to as marshes or swamps. Wetlands can also be described as land that is covered by water; this water could be fresh or salty. In many places wetlands aren’t seen to be of much importance or with any benefits to humans but are mostly viewed as a source of mosquitoes which are disease carrying vectors for malaria.

In many places in Africa, swamps are neglected areas and only recently have communities living around wetlands been able to appreciate the importance and benefits that can arise from protecting these areas.
The areas around wetlands are very fertile and productive and therefore farming and cropping can be practiced. However, due to the fragility of this kind of ecosystem, land use should be kept on a sustainable basis to avoid over-use and depletion of the available natural resources or a collapse of the balance required to keep all organisms in the ecosystem alive.

Wetlands are also rich in sediments and the continuous availability of water maintains a constant vegetation cover around these areas. These are particularly useful as pasture lands for pastoralists. However, pastoralism too should be practiced on a rotational basis to give the vegetation some restoration period.

Ecologically, wetlands are known to trap water from water bodies that surround them, thus preventing flooding. The retained water also provides an underground storage that goes to recharge the ground water supplies. The sediments found in wetlands also helps to clean water by removing pollutants before they find their way to the water bodies around the marsh or the land around it.

Wetlands also provide habitat for a variety of unique mammals, birds and other living organisms. In Kenya for example at the Tana Delta; fish and prawns, marine turtles, diverse plant and bird species and unique terrestrial animals such as the Tana Mangabey, Tana River Red Colobus and the White Collared Monkey are found.

Other examples of wetlands in the world include the Mekong Delta in Vietnam which is covered with rice fields and produces approximately half of Vietnams agricultural output. iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa is well known for its extensive beaches, coral reefs and sand dunes. Camargue in France is best known for bird watching. The Okavango Delta in Botswana is best described as one of the world’s greatest inland waterways whose water is mostly lost to evaporation and transpiration; this is due to the proximity of the water basin to the Kalahari Desert; a desert that spreads across three countries.

Wasur National Park wetland in Indonesia is another biodiversity hotspot much like the Tana Delta with a large number of rare animals, water fowl species and migrant birds. The endangered cassowaries and wallabies are also found in this wetland. Kakadu National Park wetland in Australia is about half the size of Switzerland and it’s a suitable habitat for crocodiles, wild horses and attracts millions of migratory birds each year.

The Kerala backwaters in India is also unique in that it is made up of five large lakes that are fed by 38 rivers and the lakes are linked by canals which are both man-made and natural. The traditional rice boats have now been converted to floating hotels due to the increased tourism.

Everglades in Florida USA is well known for its Burmese pythons while the Sundarbans is known as one of the largest littoral mangrove belt that spreads from Bangladesh to West Bengal in India, and is a habitat for Bengal tigers that prey on the Chital deer and Wild boar both of which are found in this wetland.

Now that we know the importance that comes with wetlands, it is imperative that we all work towards their protection, conservation and sustainable use.