Wetlands are simply places which can have a seasonal fluctuation of water and land. These places have typical species of plants and wildlife which have adapted to or take advantage of these conditions.
February 2 is celebrated as World Wetlands Day, thanks to the adoption of the convention on wetlands held in Ramsar, Iran in 1971 on that day, to focus global and local attention on this unique yet fragile ecosystem. The theme for this year’s event is wetlands and climate change, arguing that we are not powerless against climate change and take the assistance of wetlands by protecting, restoring and enhancing them to sequester carbon, among other things, and thus fight climate change.
Wetlands are everywhere near you. In this city, almost all the ancient tanks or lakes which remain are wetlands. They harbour bio-diversity, even more than water bodies. Small reptiles, mammals, birds, plants and even algae thrive in these spaces, enhancing the quality of life of citizens. Wetlands have the property to assimilate nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates, heavy metals, organic carbon and help clean up water.
Mangroves, a unique kind of wetlands on the coast, prevent coastal erosion, protect from high tides and tsunami and provide rich fishing ground and breeding space for various species. They are under threat from rampant urbanisation and industrialisation.
Apart from their role in bio-diversity enhancement and carbon sequestration, wetlands also provide livelihoods to many. Grass and alligator weed, for example, are great fodder for cows, goat and sheep. Cat-tails can be used to make mats. Water hyacinth can be used to make paper.
While the larger wetlands need to be preserved by government and community action, smaller wetlands can be created in residential communities too. All one needs is a small pond-like space, a bit of treated wastewater from STPs and a lot of different plants such as water lettuce, papyrus, cattails, or alligator grass planted in them and you have a wetland to observe and learn from.
You can even make a small wetland in a large plastic bowl on your terrace or balcony by filling it with water and leaving guppy fish and placing all sorts of plants that can survive in them.
Remember to add a bit of soil to the bowl. In summer time, keep adding a bit of water to the bowl and observe the varieties of bees, butterflies and insects which will come to your own wetland in a bowl.
Remember to step out to the nearest lake or waterbody near you on February 2 and do your bit for wetlands by cleaning them up, by organising a walk to understand and appreciate its role in your community. You can download posters and learn more about wetlands here https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/documents .
Recognising the role wetlands play and can play in the future, stopping them from being drained, designing them to clean and polish waste-water further and protecting them would be water wisdom.