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What is World Wetlands Day?

Author: Liz Clift

World Wetlands Day marks the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands, on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. This day of awareness was adopted in 1997, and each year has focused on a theme, including “Sustainable Livelihoods” (2016); “Fish for Tomorrow?” (2007); and “No wetlands – no water” (2003). This year, the theme is “Wetlands and Human Wellbeing,” which focuses on how healthy wetlands help people cope with extreme weather events.

As though the fact that wetlands generally make our lives better isn’t reason enough to celebrate, the World Wetlands Day website has a map that shows a variety of events going on around the world that celebrate wetlands. In addition, youth ages 18-25, can participate in a photo contest from February 2 – March 2, 2017; the winner receives a free flight to a visit a Wetland of International Importance.

Great Ecology has worked on many wetland projects, perhaps most notably Woodbridge Waterfront Park. Woodbridge Waterfront Park is a 185-acre brownfield that is being restored through an intricate mitigation strategy. This project included performing multiple wetland functional analyses, designing more than 100 acres of wetland enhancement and creation, and filing comprehensive state and federal wetland and land use permits, among other tasks. Other wetland projects Great Ecology has worked on include: a wetlands assessment in Louisiana; creation of wetland habitats along a Toronto waterfront; several wetland mitigation bank habitat studiessaltmarsh restorationvernal pool habitat planning and restoration; and intertidal wetland design.

Although we may often think of wetlands as coastal, they also occur inland (as evidenced by some of the projects I’ve linked to in the previous paragraph). Even inland wetland areas can act as buffers against storms and other extreme weather events, because these areas are meant to absorb and retain large amounts of water—and can be used to treat stormwater runoff, or other forms of polluted water, an ecosystem service.

Wetlands also provide valuable habitat area for many types of plants and animals, and series of wetlands can be critical for the migratory patterns of animals due to this diversity—which can provide food, shelter, water, nesting, and resting grounds. In the Midwest, for instance, prairie potholes—small wetland areas within the context of larger grasslands—are crucial for the Midwestern flyway. Inland swamps, such as the Sudd along the Nile River in Sudan, may also be frequented by migratory and water-loving animals—including shoebills(Balaeniceps rex), black crowned cranes (Balearica pavonina), Nile lechwe (Kobus megaceros), Kob (Kobus kob), and crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus).

Of course, there are many types of wetlands, of which I’ll only cover a few other non-tidal versions: Vernal pools, which are seasonal, depressional wetland areas, provide habitat for endemic species such as certain varieties of fairy shrimp. Playa lakes are found on the southern high plains of the US and, like vernal pools, are ephemeral existing only at certain points of the year (generally after spring rainstorms). Fens, which are peat-forming wetlands, are less acidic than bogs (another type of wetland) and have higher nutrient levels, and occur in the northeastern US, the Great Lakes region, the Rocky Mountains, and Canada.

If you’d like to learn more about wetlands, their functionality, and how wetlands are governed, visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website.