February 2 marks World Wetlands Day, established under the Ramsar Convention in 1971. A half-century ago, ecologists already decided that wetland ecosystems were crucial to maintaining biodiversity and the health of our planet. They also play an extremely important role in climate change mitigation and water retention. Unfortunately, the wetlands are disappearing from the world map with frightening speed. Since the 18th century. We have already lost more than 80 percent. of them – a third of freshwater species and a quarter of wetland-associated species are on the verge of extinction. Can anything save them? The latest research suggests that the wetland’s superhero may be the good-natured otter, a predator that knows exactly how to take care of nature’s balance.
Wetlands and human welfare
This year, World Wetlands Day is celebrated under the theme “Wetlands and Human Welfare.” It underscores how strongly our lives and health are linked to the condition of natural wetlands, which perform countless civilizational, economic and ecological functions. For centuries, people have established settlements near the wetlands, taking advantage of their natural riches: fish, birds, shellfish, and the fresh water needed for farming and animal husbandry. Rivers and streams provide nutrients to these areas, enriching the food chain. Worldwide, wetlands also provide jobs, and the waterways that lead through them play an important role in the transportation of goods and people. About 1/8 of the world’s population depends on wetlands for food, water and convenient transportation.
World Wetlands Day is an opportunity to raise awareness of the contribution of wetlands to maintaining clean water, food security and dietary diversity, as well as protecting air quality. They actively defend us from the effects of extreme weather and hydrological events. As much as 60 percent. of the population living on the coasts benefit from this natural protection from storms, hurricanes and tsunamis. Each hectare of inland wetlands absorbs 14 million liters of water and thus helps reduce floods and mitigate droughts. Contact with the natural environment of the wetlands promotes emotional balance and improves mental health.
World Wetlands Day – how do we celebrate it in Poland?
Wetlands in Poland account for as much as 14 percent. of the country’s total area. They are home to many unique species of flora and fauna, and also perform regulatory functions for climate and water resources, buffering extreme weather events that are occurring with increasing frequency.
Not surprisingly, World Wetlands Day is being celebrated in Poland with the strong involvement of a wide range of institutions, including. National parks, academic and pro-environmental organizations, the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management, and Polish Waters. The initiatives are aimed at educating and raising public awareness about the importance of wetlands and promoting conservation efforts. The celebration includes scientific conferences, educational tours, competitions, media broadcasts, and initiatives to expand protected areas.
What are the main causes of wetland degradation?
Wetland degradation is a global phenomenon associated with changes in land use and human activity. One of its main causes is the draining of wetlands to acquire land for agriculture and urbanization. Another problem is pollution from, among other sources. From agriculture (fertilizers, pesticides), industry, municipal wastewater and waste.
The construction of bulkheads on rivers disrupts their natural flow and thus reduces the amount of water that feeds wetlands, leading to their drying out. Overuse of water resources for agricultural and industrial purposes, which lowers ground and surface water levels, is also not helping. The degradation of wetlands is facilitated by climate change, which disrupts the rainfall and temperature regime, and the over-extraction of natural resources such as peat and timber. In addition, the introduction of invasive species into wetland ecosystems disrupts their natural balance, displacing native plant and animal species.
How do otters protect wetlands?
Published on January 31 this year. in the journal Nature, a study by researchers at the University of California sheds new light on methods for protecting wetlands. It seems that in addition to stopping devastating activities, we should also actively work to restore the natural balance of wetlands. In the salt marshes of Elkhorn Slough, located south of San Francisco, otters proved to be the missing balance. Exterminated by man in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. have left a huge gap in the natural food chain. Without aquatic predators, the shore crabs have begun to reproduce with remarkable intensity, devouring vast quantities of roots of the herbaceous sole, a species that maintains the stability of wetlands and protects the land from erosion.
In the aforementioned study, the researchers proved that reintroducing otters to a crab-dominated area in a short period of time yielded unexpected results – a healthier solifice, a more stable substrate and significantly lower erosion rates. This is by no means the first such observation. Very similar effects were previously observed in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where multiplying sea urchins devastated the seafloor by consuming kelp. The return of otters has helped restore the karst forest.
Once again, it became clear that predators are a key element of any ecosystem, including wetlands, which we must learn to care for more effectively. So why not ask otters for help?