Why are wetlands important?

Water is crucial for all life. Water can be at the same time a threat for land mammals like us! Wetlands are in fact the interface between water and land. These areas have always been the richest areas for man and for nature, often providing fertile soils and enough water. More distant wetlands prove their value by regulating water run off, storing large quantities of water during wet period, and releasing this slowly also during dry periods.

The first civilisations in the Middle East emerged for good reasons along the fertile Nile River Valley and the flood plains of the Euphrates and Tigris in Mesopotamia. These kind of wetland areas provided the best circumstances for the survival of large numbers of people. In fact the same reasons apply when we look at biodiversity.

Crucial for man

Wetlands in natural state are often already crucial for man. Mainly because of their capacity in storing large quantities of fresh water, mitigating the impact of floods and droughts for a whole area and for their enormous biological productivity that can be harvested in the form of for instance fish, wood, reed.

We do surely not state natural wetlands are the best for man. Some wetland types like peatswamps are inaccessible and not productive at all. In some cases, the productivity of wetlands for man has increased by converting natural areas into agricultural areas. The rice fields of the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia or along the Yangtze in China are a good example. These kind of areas can still be called wetlands, although strongly influenced by man. Their agricultural success is dependent on the fact that river water is still playing a major role, providing fertility and fresh water.

Affected wetlands

Success stories of former wetlands that are totally drained or cut off from seasonal water are much rarer. There is unfortunately a long list of once very important wetlands that are now converted into useless wastelands due to bad management. The salty dry areas of former Mesopotamia or the drained and logged peatswamp forests of South-east Asia are sad examples. The indirect impact of wetland loss is illustrated by the floods and droughts of India and Bangladesh; this is partly a result of the degradation of the high altitude peatswamps of the Himalayas. These areas have lost most of their ability to store water through overgrazing and mining.

What are wetlands?

According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands “Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or 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 six metres."

All wetlands have two characteristics in common: Water or ice and earth. For Wetlands International the most important common feature is their importance for nature and mankind. No other type of ecosystem is so important to millions of migratory birds, fish, amphibians, insects, plants and trees. And no other type of area is so important to mankind. It is Wetlands International’s mission to preserve the 6% of the planet’s surface we call wetlands.

Click here for the different types of coastal / marine, inland and man-made wetlands identified by the convention.