The Wonders of Wetlands
– Nasreen Mayet, 2014-02-04
Wetlands are wonderful for numerous reasons but these wonders weren’t always known to man and it was often common to overlook the importance of the landscape type. The mention of a wetland used to bring to mind images of murky, mosquito riddled swamps or unused lands that needed to be developed into a space which would be more useful to humankind. Wetlands were grossly undervalued. This led to the loss of many, which provoked the Convention on Wetlands to be signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971. The Ramsar Convention still serves as an international wetland conservation movement and currently holds over 160 nation signatories.
So what exactly is a wetland, and why is it so valuable to conserve? A wetland can be defined as any land that is either permanently or periodically saturated with water. Wetlands can be natural or artificial, can be saturated with freshwater, saltwater or brackish (which is water that contains salt but not as much as seawater) and supports vegetation that is especially adapted to grow in saturated soils. But apart from a wetland having such unique characteristics, the real wonders of a wetland lie in all the functions it has that benefit people and the environment.
One of its most amazing wonders is that it acts as a sponge or natural flood control system. The structure of wetlands enables them to absorb rainfall and thus reduce the volume of water that enters into rivers and streams which naturally lowers the risk of flooding. Wider floodplains also help to pan out and store the rainfall. Another unbelievable wonder of a wetland includes its ability to purify water by trapping pollutants in its soils and vegetation. Wetlands are so effective at purifying water that they are used to purify wastewater from industry, mining and sewerage.
If these two aforementioned functions are not blessings enough, wetlands replenish groundwater supply which is an important water source as well. Wetlands also support a large variety of animal and plant species. Former President Nelson Mandela illustrated the biological diversity that exists in a wetland when he once mentioned the St. Lucia Wetlands in a speech: ‘The wetland park must be the only place on the globe where the world’s oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest land mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (the whale).’
Sadly however, whilst wetlands have so many wonders that enhance the environment, there are many factors that threaten this landscape type. Wetlands in South Africa are threatened by overgrazing, pollution from pesticides, commercial development, alien plants and poor urban storm water management. To combat these threats the Working for Wetlands Programme was established to rehabilitate, protect and preserve wetlands. Over a 12 year period the programme has rehabilitated 906 wetlands by investing R530 million.
Allah (SWT) is surely bountiful in His blessings to us and there is evidence of this if we look at the wonders of the wetlands! South Africa is a country abundant in natural wetland ecosystems as seen in the map below. As custodians of the earth we should take time not only to visit and learn more about these environments but we should try and become actively involved in projects to help preserve, protect and rehabilitate the remaining Wetland ecosystems in our beautiful country. May Allah guide us and bless us abundantly in our efforts to conserves and restore our environments, Aameen.
Recommended additional readings and resources
- Water Conservation by Sh. Dr Ridwaan Gallant ( of the Environmental Desk of the Muslim Judicial Council; SAFCEI)
- wetlands fact sheet by our local environmental NGO, WESSA.
- Commemorative booklet: 40 years of the Ramsar Convention: http://www.ramsar.org/pdf/Ramsar40_booklet/Ramsar_LiquidAssets_E.pdf
- Wetland ecosystem services factsheet 1 : http://www.ramsar.org/pdf/info/services_01_e.pdf
- Wetland ecosystem services factsheet 5 : http://www.ramsar.org/pdf/info/services_05_e.pdf
Nasreen Mayet is a BSc Honours graduate in Geography, with undergraduate majors in both Geography and Ecology, Environment and Conservation from the University of the Witwatersrand. Working as spatial analyst, Nasreen takes keen interest in issues of environmental impacts spatially. Nasreen manages the emerging markets and financial desk of Green Deen South Africa. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org