Why Are Wetlands Important?

Are you curious about the importance of wetlands? This article delves into the definition of wetlands, their significance, the threats they face, and what we can do to preserve them.

Wetlands globally are undergoing destruction, pollution, and damage at a disturbing pace. Considering their crucial role in providing food and water security, supporting livelihoods, carbon sequestration, and mitigating climate impacts, it’s essential to protect and restore wetlands.

Conservation Volunteers Australia has a dedicated initiative, Revive Our Wetlands, which utilises citizen science educational events and habitat restoration activities to restore wetlands across Australia.

What are wetlands and where are they found?

Wetlands are land areas saturated or covered by water, including mangroves, billabongs, lakes, bogs, saltmarshes, mudflats, peatlands, and lagoons.

The level of soil saturation and whether the water is present all-year-round or seasonally, influences the soil development and the types of wetland ecosystems present.

Wetlands host both terrestrial and aquatic species of plants and animals, and are scattered across nearly every continent. Ranging from coastal and tidal wetlands to inland or non-tidal ones, these areas are biodiversity hotspots and provide critical ecosystem services essential for our survival and resilience.

Australia is home to about 10% of the world’s blue and teal wetlands, making it a priority for conservation efforts. There are 67 wetlands of international importance in Australia, designated as Ramsar sites, covering over 8.3 million hectares.

5 reasons why wetlands are important

Wetlands provide a range of environmental, social and economic benefits when they are healthy and functioning optimally.

These ecosystem goods and services provide vast benefits, which are often overlooked, misunderstood or taken for granted.

1. Wetlands support biodiversity

Wetlands are one of the world’s most biodiverse habitats on the planet. They are home to many plants and animals including a great number of endangered species such as frogs, birds, insects, tortoises and fish.

Wetlands support 40% of all plant and animal species that use wetlands as a place to live and breed.

To date, around 100,000 species of animals have been identified in freshwater wetlands around the world, with countless others yet to be discovered.

2. Wetlands sequester carbon very efficiently and effectively

Wetlands are important carbon sinks, storing (or sequestering) vast amounts of carbon in their soils.

This ability to store carbon and sequester it more rapidly compared with rain forests and other ecosystems, helps our planet to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Peatlands, a type of wetland, are for example, able to store twice as much carbon as the world’s forests.

And coastal ‘blue carbon’ wetlands are known for their ability to store carbon up to 55 times faster than tropical rainforests.

3. Wetlands help mitigate the impacts of climate change

Healthy wetland ecosystems are able to help us mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Not only are wetlands able to store vast amounts of carbon, but they also safeguard communities living along the coast from various natural disasters. That includes protection from coastal flooding, coastal storms, coastal erosion, landslides, fire, and even drought.

By doing so, functional wetland ecosystems provide us with resilience to a range of natural threats.

4. Wetlands provide clean water and food

Often referred to as the ‘kidneys of the planet’, wetlands are known for their ability to clean and filter water.

Considering that just a fraction of all water on Earth is accessible freshwater, wetlands provide a valuable and cost-effective service when they filter and clean water for us to drink.

Wetlands are also critical for food security, providing an important source of water for irrigating crops and supporting agriculture.

5. Wetlands enhance wellbeing and support livelihoods and local economies

Wetlands support over one billion peoples’ livelihoods. That includes livelihoods based on farming, fishing, aquaculture, transport, travel and tourism.

Wetlands also enhance our sense of wellbeing, while supporting local economies. They provide us with places to connect with nature, to relax and unwind. Wetlands also hold cultural significance for many people around the world.

How are wetlands under threat (and what are the causes)?

Despite the overwhelming number of benefits provided by wetlands, these ecosystems are under threat.

Wetlands are being polluted, converted for development and agriculture, dammed, and are affected by climate change. Overfishing and invasive species also threaten the health and resilience of wetlands.

In fact, around 35% of wetlands have been lost in the last five decades alone (since 1970).

As wetland habitats are diminishing, so too is the wetland biodiversity they support. Now 25% of all wetland species risk extinction.

nature photography competition

Photo Credit: Naidu Kumapatla

The time to act is now: reasons to protect and restore wetlands

If we continue to lose wetland ecosystems at such a rapid pace, the abundance of ecosystem goods and services they provide us will dry up.

That means we’d need to invest considerably into measures to source and clean fresh water, to protect coasts from storms and flooding, to mitigate climate change and store carbon. Many people’s livelihoods would be affected, as well as local economies and food security.

That’s why the time to take action for wetland is now.

Luckily, there’s a lot we can all do to help be part of the solution.

Here are a few ways you can contribute to protecting and restoring wetlands:

  • Learn more about wetlands.
  • Don’t litter. Practise sustainable consumption and ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.

👉 Take part in CVA’s SeaToSource Plastic Waste Challenge to reduce your household plastic consumption.

  • Be water wise. By conserving water, there’s less pressure on wetlands.
  • Get involved in wetland restoration projects.

👉 Whether you donate to conservation organisations like CVA, or you take part in conservation volunteering projects with CVA, we can all take action for wetlands.

  • Avoid pesticides and pollutants. These can enter groundwater and pollute wetlands, so keep your garden organic and your home pollutant-free.
  • Plant indigenous gardens that act as wildlife corridors for wetland plants and animals.

👉 A great way to get started bringing back nature to your garden is to create a Nature Block.