By Dr. Jen Karberg, Research Program Supervisor
Last Saturday was World Wetlands Day – a day designed to celebrate the beauty, ecology, value and uniqueness of wetlands around the world. These days, it’s no argument how important wetlands are from marshes that provide homes for ducks and fish to raingardens in splendid summer flower capturing runoff to coastal salt marshes buffering our uplands from storm waves. But not so long ago, wetlands were considered junk land, places that were poor for building, wet and smelly and home to mosquitos. All those things are a little bit true but over the last 50 years, we’ve come to understand just how important wetlands really are and they have more value than being a good site to build a Walmart!
In 1971, over 50% of the wetlands in the world had been filled or drained or dramatically altered. In 1971, after years of negotiations, 18 countries adopted the “Convention on Wetlands of International Importance”, commonly known as the Ramsar Convention. Their mission?
“the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.
Through the Ramsar Convention, countries work to use and manage wetlands intelligently and promote world wide understanding of what wetlands do. World Wetlands Day (every February 2) recognizes the signing of the Ramsar Convention and helps celebrate what makes wetlands special.
Wetland Biodiversity Matters, World Wetlands Day 2020
Over 40% of the world’s plants and animals live or breed or spend some part of their lives in wetlands. On Nantucket, salt marshes are key for shellfish and fish species that drive our local fisheries. Freshwater wetlands provide food and shelter for migrating birds. Wetlands support life or all kinds.
Having diverse and intact wetlands helps keep the world a healthy place from filtering pollutants and runoff to storing carbon in their soils to protecting uplands from storm surges.
Even though international, national and local laws protect wetlands, they have still been impacted. Since 1970, 85% of animals and plants in inland wetlands and 36% of coastal animals and plants have declined dramatically and we are losing the wetlands that protect our shorelines and water quality.
What can you do? Protect wetlands on your property and even look to restore wet areas. Install buffers, natural lawns and raingardens to help improve biodiversity. Get involved at the local level and attend government meetings. On Nantucket, that is the Conservation Commission.
And go explore! Get your feet wet at one of the NCF properties below and checkout the wetland beauty and biodiversity around you!