Before I explain the importance of wetlands, it is important to understand what are wetlands. Wetlands, according to Ramsar Convention, are areas of submerged or water saturated land, both natural and artificial, permanent and temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed 6 meters (IUCN, 1971).A noted ecologist Cowardin described wetlands (widely accepted definition), as the lands that are transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water (Cowardin, L. M., et al, 1979). Sundarbans in India, Everglades in United States are some of the popular wetlands in the world. There are fresh water wetlands as well as marine water. Wetlands can be found along the coast or inland near a river system.
Wetlands are a complex ecosystems that carry out various biological, ecological and chemical processes. For a long time they were considered as wastelands and were used as dump sites. However, wetlands play a very important role in balancing the ecosystem. They are very critical in maintaining the water cycle as well as the numerous biochemical processes to maintain an ecological balance. They act as buffers from severe cyclonic storms in most coastal areas of the world. They also play an important role in controlling flood waters by acting as flood-balancing reservoirs and treat waste waters.
Wetlands are home to numerous birds and fish species. They are a safe haven for many migratory birds which come there to breed and raise their young. As the wetlands are rich in nutrients, they are an ideal place for many of the bird species. With its shallow water, weeds and tall grasses, they are an ideal nesting grounds. Migratory birds like Pelicans, Flamingos, Storks, Cranes, Teals travel long distances every year from cold regions to find an ideal wetland to nest and breed. Various fresh water and marine fish species use the wetlands to spawn. Fish like Salmon swim upriver through these coastal wetlands to spawn in fresh river waters. Most fisheries of the world are found near the wetlands as they are rich in numerous fish species.
With increasing pressure on land and booming population growth, wetlands are under immense stress. Pollution levels have increased tremendously causing a chemical imbalance in the wetlands. In many tropical coastal wetlands, the wetlands have been converted into land masses for agriculture and aquaculture purposes apart from constructing industries. Due to this, there is severe flooding in the inland regions causing heavy sedimentation in wetlands. Effluents and run offs from the agricultural lands, aquaculture ponds and industries have increased eutrophication in these fragile wetlands. There is less availability of dissolved oxygen in these shallow waters.
All these factors have led to drying up of wetlands. In some regions they are constantly under water. Many fish and bird species have become extinct. The number of migratory birds also decreases as there is less availability of food. In some regions, they have become waste lands as they cannot contain life anymore. Therefore it is important to preserve these wetlands for the future. It is important to restore the wetlands in a sustainable fashion so that the ecology would be restored as well as the livelihoods of all the people who depend on these wetlands. As wetlands protect the inland regions and populated places from cyclonic storms, it is very vital that the wetlands are preserved. Embankments or any kind of obstructions in the wetlands should be removed so that the wetlands can regulate the flood waters efficiently. Wetlands are important and they need to be restored for the sake of our environment and for our future as well.
1. IUCN, 1971. The Ramsar Conference, IUCN Bulletin 2(19), pp 1-14.
2. Cowardin, L. M., Cartery, Golet, F. C., La Roe, E. I. 1979. Classification of wetlands and deep water habitats of the United States, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Washington D. C. 103 pp.