Wetlands are dynamic and unique environments. Also called Earth’s kidneys, wetlands are found all over the world. They occur in many different types and serve a variety of important functions.

What is a Wetland?

Wetlands are dynamic aquatic ecosystems found all over the world. A wetland is an area of land that is saturated with water either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands can be freshwaterbrackish (partly salty), or saline (very salty).

So, yes, a wetland is a place where the land is covered by water, either salt, fresh or somewhere in between. Marshes and ponds, the edge of a lake or ocean, the delta at the mouth of a river, low-lying areas that frequently flood—all of these are wetlands.

Wetlands are known as the earth’s ‘kidneys’ because, like your kidneys, they serve the very important function of filtering water. As water moves through a wetland, the sediments and pollutants ‘stick’ in the wetland, making the water cleaner. Wetlands also help reduce flooding and prevent shoreline erosion.

Wetlands may be natural or human-made. The only continent on Earth that does not contain natural wetlands is Antarctica. Human-made wetlands may be constructed for water management purposes in urban areas. What is unique about all wetlands is that they contain vegetation that is specially adapted to such wet conditions. Plants that live in wetlands must be quite tolerant of wet, productive soils.

We Need Healthy Wetlands

The destruction of wetlands is a concern because they are some of the most productive habitats on the planet. They often support high concentrations of animals—including mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates—and serve as nurseries for many of these species. Wetlands also support the cultivation of rice, a staple in the diet of half the world’s population. And they provide a range of ecosystem services that benefit humanity, including water filtration, storm protection, flood control and recreation.

Without wetlands, cities have to spend more money to treat water for their citizens, floods are more devastating to nearby communities, storm surges from hurricanes can penetrate farther inland, animals are displaced or die out, and food supplies are disrupted, along with livelihoods.

WWF, governments and other organizations have pursued efforts to conserve and protect wetlands for more than 40 years through the Ramsar Convention, the only international treaty devoted to a single ecosystem type. More than 476,000 acres of wetland have been protected through this treaty, saving them and their services for future generations.

Lower Silvermine Wetland in Clovelly

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