Values of Wetland Ecosystems

Nov 04, 2018

Wetlands are saturated lands consisting of marshy or swampy thickets. Accordingto Ramsar Convention of 1979 which was held in Iran defined wetland as areas of marsh, fern, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salty. Including areas of marine water with the depth of low tides which does not exceed six meters. The land which is composed of wetlands worldwide is not exactly known, though the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre gave an estimate of about 570 million hectares which is approximated to be 6% of the Earth’s land surface.

In the past, before the realization of the importance of wetland ecosystems, they were just left fallow and abandoned as ‘wastelands’.  Nowadays, wetlands are referred to be the most productive ecosystems compared to rainforest and coral reefs ecosystems of the world. They are known to have substantial biodiversity with numerous species from major groups of organisms ranging from plants, microbes and mammals. After, mankind realized the value of wetlands, they were recognized in the Ramsar Convention where numerous wetlands were listed for protection against degradation caused by anthropogenic activities.

Our over-exploitation and use of wetland resources has caused many problems to human well-being and the entire environment. Our activities like urbanization, infrastructure development, and wetland reclamation for agriculture has put more risk for us, like access to safe water, access to food, loss of biodiversity and acceleration of global warming. Even if there have been attempts to promote sustainable and wise use of wetland ecosystems, as suggested by Ramsar Convention of 1971, it all still depends on us to continues ripe the benefits of this critical ecosystem. 

The importance of wetlands are multiple, some are indirect and others direct. Provisioning of water; provisioning of food; regulation of climate change; moderation of shoreline flooding; air purification; groundwater discharge and recharge. These values play important roles in relation to soil nutrient cycling which is vital in supporting agriculture; food security; cultural benefits, including knowledge inspiration, spiritual values, recreational amenities, aesthetic values, and tourism attraction in designated sites. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 1997, it gave an estimate of US$15 trillion as an economic value of wetlands. Therefore, wetlands save us a great deal of money expenditure in performing purification, moderation of floods, food security and stabilization of general ecosystem. In 1990 Congaree Bottomland Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina, did a study which showed that quantity of pollutants that would be removed is equivalent to $5 million of waste water treated in a plant annually. 

However, there are activities that are undermining the protection of wetlands such as increase in human population which causes increase in pollution; wetland reclamation for settlement and agriculture; alteration of land use. When the wetlands are degraded they directly affect human health, biodiversity and eventually increase climate change issues. This will double our expenditures to rehabilitate, restore and recover the lost or degraded wetlands. Finally, it can lead to loss of some keystone species, which we humans can’t leave without. Therefore, it calls for urgent recovery, restoration of these degraded wetlands.

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