World Wetlands Day is celebrated internationally each year on 2 February. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Ramsar Convention. It is celebrated to raise awareness of wetland values and benefits and promote the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
Rivers, lakes, ponds and wet meadows are great places to see wildlife – not just birds, but fish, insects, plants, amphibians, reptiles, and if you are really lucky, mammals such as the otter and the nutria.
A very important aspect of wetlands are the reedbeds. They are made of large patches of reeds in shallow, fresh water. Insects are hatched here and provide food for birds, fish amphibians and reptiles alike. They provide shelter for many species. Many birds use the reeds for hiding and nesting. Most ground predators can’t reach them here. Wetlands come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they can all support a vast array of wildlife.
Everyone knows that wetlands are important for fish, but what about all the tiny creatures that help make a wetland ecosystem? You’d be amazed at how many different beetles, bugs and odd-shaped organisms live underwater. All part of the food chain, which helps many of the fish exist.
Water and birds
Some species are particularly associated with water. These include kingfishers and dippers, which live alongside rivers and feed in their running waters
The best way to see a kingfisher is to learn its shrill whistling call, then you can hear them approaching before they reach you.
Other birds such as grebes and pelican feed and nest on lakes. They rely on clean water to support fish for their food.
Penduline tits are not true tits (Paridae). Their common name comes from their gourd-like nests that hang like pendulums from trees at wetlands.
Why are wetlands in trouble?
Our rivers and ponds are home to many kinds of fish, minibeasts and amphibians. They need the water they live in to be clean or they won’t survive. The chemicals we put on our fields can also drain into these places and create a green gunge made from too much algae. Yuk!
Historically, reedbeds and marshlands were often seen as a waste of space. Many were drained to build houses on or to farm. We must now protect the bits that are left.
Wetlands are important source of water everywhere, including in places where the resource is scarce.
Local populations and animal and plant species benefit from wetlands as providers of water. Wetlands allow water to reach the underground water table, making the resource available in dry periods. Thus, wetlands are key for groundwater recharge and allow ecosystems to cope with drought. By the same process, by releasing underground water, wetlands help to maintain the flow of rivers when precipitations diminish.
Nowadays, the economy, human health and natural ecosystems are facing one of the most pressing problems: climate change. Wetland ecosystems are severely affected by such impacts of climate change such as sea level rise, coral bleaching, hydrological effects, changes in water temperature, and alterations in water availability and quality.
Wetlands, particularly coastal wetlands, are important for helping to mitigate climate change because they help to manage extreme weather events through the multiple services they provide. Important wetland functions include water storage, groundwater recharge, storm protection, flood mitigation, shoreline stabilization, erosion control, and retention of carbon, nutrients, sediments and pollutants (Dugan 1990).
Absorbing and storing carbon
Wetlands, and especially peatlands, are significant carbon stores. According to the Ramsar Convention, it has been estimated that peatlands contain at least 550 Gt of carbon, which is almost double the amount stored in the world’s forests.
Although they cover only 3% of the world’s land area, they contain 30% of its soil carbon (Parish et al, 2008; FAO, 2012b).
If you are interested to learn more, see the Ramsar fact sheets: https://www.ramsar.org/resources/ramsar-fact-sheets