Wetland is a land area saturated with water, either perennially or seasonally. The main factor that distinguishes wetlands from other water bodies are the special aquatic plants that grow on its unique hydric soil. Wetlands are one of the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems.
A convention was held on Wetlands in 1971 at Ramsar, Iran.
The Convention defined wetlands as “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 meters”.
Ramsar Convention Logo
The mission statement that came forth during the convention was, “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.”
World Wetlands Day
February 2nd was chosen to be commemorated as World Wetlands Day every year at this convention to raise public awareness on wetlands, their various types, environmental and socio-economic significance, necessity, and preservation.
Why are wetlands important?
Importance of Wetlands
- Wetlands capture excess rain and allow it to soak to create ground water reserve.
- Wetlands filter and purify the surface water. They filter out sedimentation, decompose vegetative matter and convert chemicals into useable form.
- Wetlands maintain water levels. Much like a sponge, the wetlands release water gradually when the ground water levels go down.
- Wetlands counter human effects on rivers by rejuvenating them.
- Wetlands alleviate floods by holding water.
- Wetlands support agriculture by providing water for irrigation.
- Wetlands also provide food to river creatures by releasing vegetative matter into rivers.
- Wetlands support birds and aquatic life.
- Wetlands act like kidneys in our bodies. They are cleansing agents to the whole ecosystem.
- The ability of wetlands to recycle brings into focus their role for the well-being of the earth as a whole.
Kidney Functions of a Wetland
In Indian Languages
Every Indian language has a name for wetlands indicating how people had considered it special and had accorded it due significance. Their distinct classification and name for wetlands also meant they had known the role wetlands play and had hence kept them preserved both in name and form.
Word for Wetlands in some Indian languages
In Samskrt, Wetland is referred to as Anupa, meaning that which is watery, marshy.
The beauty of our ancient knowledge on the functions of a wetland and its importance in ecology becomes even more evident when we look at the framing of the Samskrt word Anupa. It comes from Pa which means “that which drinks, absorbs”. Anu is a prefix that denotes “as per, according to”. Anupa or a wetland is that whose function is to drink, to absorb.
And this is what the ecologists describe the role of these waterbodies to be, today.
Every time people of yore referred to wetlands as Anupa or in their local language, their mind would conjure up the role of the wetland and they were kept preserved. This connect has been broken in the last century or so and along with that the knowledge about these water bodies too.
Wetlands not Wastelands
Because of the lack of knowledge of all these properties of the wetland, most of the wetlands which are in the outskirts of our cites are unfortunately being converted into garbage dump areas.
Many Wetlands are vanishing today under the guise of development.
Garbage dumped in a Wetland
Let this awareness help us prevent the destruction of our wetlands, for wetlands play a constructive and rejuvenating role in our ecosystem. It is important to realize that Wetlands are not wastelands. They are an essential part of the ecosystem, and need to be preserved.