Wetland (aerial view)

Wetland conservation is aimed at protecting and preserving areas of land including marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens that are covered by water seasonally or permanently due to a variety of threats from both natural and anthropogenic hazards. Some examples of these hazards include habitat loss, pollution, and invasive species. Wetland vary widely in their salinity levels, climate zones, and surrounding geography and play a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity, ecosystem services, and support human communities.[1] Wetlands cover at least six percent of the Earth and have become a focal issue for conservation due to the ecosystem services they provide. More than three billion people, around half the world's population, obtain their basic water needs from inland freshwater wetlands.[2] They provide essential habitats for fish and various wildlife species, playing a vital role in purifying polluted waters and mitigating the damaging effects of floods and storms. Furthermore, they offer a diverse range of recreational activities, including fishing, hunting, photography, and wildlife observation.[3]

Wetland Functions and Values

Wetlands serve as multifaceted ecosystems with a wide array of essential functions that contribute to both the environment and human societies.

Floodwater Storage and Filtration

Wetlands can help mitigate the impacts of flooding in areas due to their function of floodwater storage. According to Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, numerous wetlands, particularly those situated in floodplains, possess the ability to temporarily hold excess floodwaters when there are high runoff conditions. While wetlands have been likened to natural sponges in the past, their role is better compared to that of natural reservoirs. They store floodwaters that spill over riverbanks or accumulate in low-lying areas. As floodwaters gradually subside, these wetlands slowly release the stored water from their soils. This function of retaining some of the floodwaters and regulating the pace at which water re-enters the stream can effectively decrease the intensity of downstream flooding and erosion.[4] Wetlands also aid in water filtration by removing excess nutrients, slowing the water allowing particulates to settle out of the water which can then be absorbed into plant roots. Their vegetation and soil trap sediments and pollutants, while beneficial microbes in the wetland break down harmful substances. In this manner, these invertebrates are capable of removing as much as 90% of bacteria from the water.[5]


Beavers are one of the many organisms that utilize wetlands as their habitats. Dams are built by beavers as their homes to care for offspring that are used as a safe haven from predators and climate conditions.

Wetlands play a vital role in providing diverse and critical habitats for a wide array of plant and animal species, serving as a cornerstone of ecological diversity. Different species of fish and wildlife utilize wetlands in various ways. Some rely on wetlands as their main habitat, while others use them seasonally for food and shelter. Wetlands are crucial for the survival of many species, while they serve as essential seasonal habitats for others.[6] The synergy of shallow waters, abundant nutrients, and high primary productivity creates a perfect environment for the growth of organisms that make up the foundation of the food chain, providing nourishment for various fish, amphibians, shellfish, and insects.[7] Wetlands have also been a location favored by scientists in aid to the improvement and discovery of medicine. There is an estimated 70-80% of people worldwide who rely on herbal medicine as well as income from harvest and trade of plants due to their medicinal purposes. Although there is no existence of a global inventory of wetland medicinal species, the White willow is an example. This riverine plant is used in skin care products as well as being the original source of salicylic acid.[8] Additionally, numerous species of birds and mammals depend on wetlands to find their food, drink water, and have a safe place to stay, particularly during their long journeys or when they're having babies.[9]

Climate Change Mitigation

Wetlands play a crucial and multifaceted role in mitigating climate change through their natural processes and functions.[10] They capture carbon from the air when plants grow and trap sediment from water. This carbon gets stored in plants, leaves, soil, and mud, sometimes for thousands of years.[11] According to an article published by A.M. Nahlik and M.S. Fennesy, worldwide, wetlands retain around 700 billion tons of carbon, mainly in peat soils, with an annual sequestration rate of 96 million tons. In the United States, it's estimated that wetlands contain 11.52 billion tons of carbon, equivalent to approximately 1% of the global soil carbon reservoir which highlights the carbon storage capacity of wetlands on a global scale.

Biological Productivity

While wetlands only cover around 5% of the Conterminous United States's land surface, they support 31% of the plant species. Through wetlands ability to absorb nutrients, they are able to be highly biologically productive (able to produce biomass quickly). Freshwater wetlands are even comparable to tropical rainforests in plant productivity.[12] Their ability to efficiently create biomass may become important to the development of alternative energy sources.

Students explore wetlands at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge for educational benefits.

Recreation, Education and Research

Wetlands, beyond their ecological importance, offer a wealth of recreational opportunities, serve as invaluable educational resources, and serve as living laboratories for vital research. These unique ecosystems attract outdoor enthusiasts, providing spaces for activities like birdwatching, hiking, and photography while also serving as educational platforms where people can learn about nature and environmental conservation. Additionally, wetlands provide researchers with dynamic environments to study various ecological processes and species, contributing to our understanding of the natural world.[13]

Threats to Wetlands

According to UN Climate Change News, wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. Wetlands are facing growing threats that put their health at risk. Urban development, pollution, land drainage, and climate change are endangering these valuable habitats that serve as essential flood buffers and wildlife havens.[14]

Habitat Loss

Globally, continued habitat loss alone is projected to drive approximately 1,700 vertebrate species to extinction by 2070.[15] Costal wetlands are very vulnerable to this threat due to erosion, subsidence, sea-level rise, development, and drainage. "Approximately seven football fields every hour, and a twenty five percent increase over the previous 6 year study period."[16] Common direct impacts of habitat loss to wetlands include removal of vegetation, fluctuation in water levels, and building construction. The decline in wetland habitat has far-reaching economic and societal implications. The degradation and loss of these habitats have resulted in the reduction of fish populations in terms of both their size and diversity. This, in turn, has led to a decrease in the availability of opportunities for both the commercial fishing industry and recreational fishing, impacting the livelihoods and leisure activities of many individuals and communities. Not only is this habitat loss affecting the fish residing in these wetlands and the recreational activities that come from them, the reduction in fish populations resulting from habitat loss in wetlands can disrupt the delicate balance of the ecosystem. As fish play a crucial role in the food chain, their decline can lead to changes in the abundance and behavior of other species, affecting the entire wetland ecosystem.[17]


Plastic pollution residing in wetland

Wetlands are susceptible to the detrimental effects of pollution, which can undermine their ecological health and diminish their vital functions. Pollution from various sources, including agricultural runoff, industrial discharges, and urban contaminants, poses a significant threat to the delicate balance of wetland ecosystems, affecting not only their plant and animal residents but also the critical services they provide. According to an article published by NOAA Fisheries, due to high concentrations of pollution, a wetland's filtration system capacity can become overwhelmed thus allowing excess nutrients and toxic chemicals to concentrate in waterways which create dead zones that leave organisms that live in the water to be unable to survive. Not only do wetlands only serve as conduits for the passage of plastic waste but also act as sites where plastic waste accumulates over time, posing enduring challenges.[18] Human actions, including the construction of roads and the extraction of resources, have significantly disturbed wetland ecosystems. This has made previously drained wetlands susceptible to wildfires thus increasing the chance of air pollution from the toxic metals that wetlands have absorbed and stored resting in peat that can pose health threats to people and environment. Once a drained wetland ignites, "peatland fires are difficult to contain as they can smolder for weeks, months or even years. They produce copious of smoke and ash, filling the air with microscopic particles."[19]

Invasive Species

Nutria (Myocastor coypus)

Invasive species are causing considerable harm to wetlands by outcompeting native plants and animals, thereby disrupting the delicate balance of these ecosystems. These invaders often grow more aggressively and can change the wetland's structure and function, reducing its capacity for flood control and water purification. Additionally, invasive species can negatively impact the availability of suitable habitats for native species and contribute to the overall degradation of wetland health.[20] An example of one of the many organisms that pose as an invasive species threat to wetlands is the Nutria. The Nutria is a semi-aquatic rodent that originated from South America but was brought to the United States in 1889 due to the popularity of its fur, but over the years has taken over wetlands due to being released or escaping ranches. Due to their high reproductive rate and lack of implemented population control, these rodents have lead to crop damage, decrease of native plants due to consumption, and an increase in flood damage due to their low made burrows.[21]

Climate Change

Climate change has a significant impact on wetlands, primarily through rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns. These changes can lead to shifts in wetland ecosystems, affecting the distribution of plant and animal species.[22] Additionally, increased temperatures can result in the loss of wetland habitat and contribute to sea-level rise, which can further threaten the stability and function of coastal wetlands as well as leading to altered precipitation patterns and prolonged droughts, resulting in reduced water levels and drying of wetland areas. As temperatures rise, wetlands are susceptible to more frequent and severe wildfires. The increased fire risk can lead to the destruction of wetland vegetation, further diminishing their capacity to support wildlife and maintain their ecological functions.[23]

Importance of Wetland Conservation

Restoring wetlands through conservation efforts is critical for preserving their vital functions. These ecosystems offer natural flood control, water purification, and support for biodiversity, making them essential for ecological health and human well-being. Wetland restoration aims to rehabilitate damaged wetland areas by addressing factors like water retention, damage from activities such as logging, grazing, and off-road vehicle use, or changes in water sources. Restoration projects can range from ceasing harmful practices to reestablishing water flow and wetland characteristics. By restoring wetlands, efforts can enhance their resilience, mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure the continued provision of valuable ecosystem services.[24]

Restoration Efforts and Projects

Numerous projects and organizations are actively contributing to wetland restoration efforts. They often collaborate with government agencies, local communities, and conservationists to rehabilitate degraded wetlands by implementing restoration plans. These initiatives include activities like re-establishing water flow, controlling invasive species, and replanting native vegetation, ultimately revitalizing wetland ecosystems and safeguarding their critical ecological functions. The following list is not comprehensive.

(NOAA) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (USA 2022)

In Louisiana's Barataria Basin, NOAA and partners have begun construction on one of the largest habitat restoration efforts to date in a 1,200 acre marsh in hopes to restore and create a new habitat, reduce erosion, and protect communities.[25]

Eden Reforestation Project (USA 2022)

The Eden Reforestation Project is a non-profit organization that collaborates directly with local communities and non-government/government organizations and focuses on global reforestation efforts. They work in various countries, employing local workers to plant trees and restore damaged forests, aiming to combat deforestation, alleviate poverty, and mitigate the effects of climate change. Eden relies on data-driven strategies in its restoration efforts and maintains a strong dedication to flexible management practices. This involves integrating the latest scientific insights, adapting methods as they evolve, and implementing tailored monitoring techniques for each project to ensure their effectiveness, reliability, and repeatability.[26]

Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (USA 2000-present)

The CERP is a multi-billion-dollar plan approved by congress in 2000 to save the wetlands of the everglades in southern Florida with only 50% of its natural wetlands remaining.[27] The goal of this plan is to increase freshwater storage, improve water quality, and re-establish the natural water flow. Out of the 68 restoration components outlined in the Integrated Development Strategy, 24 had been finalized by the end of 2021. During that same year, two additional projects were successfully concluded. In 2022, one project is on track for completion, while construction is actively progressing on nine other projects.[28]

Yellow River Wetland Conservation (China 2019)

The Yellow River Wetland Conservation Project is an initiative in China aimed at preserving and restoring the critical wetland ecosystems along the Yellow River, also known as the Huang He. The Yellow River is one of China's major rivers, and it flows through several provinces, supporting various wetland habitats and wildlife. The project focuses on a range of activities including wetland restoration, biodiversity protection, and sustainable land use.[29]

Danube River Basin Program (Europe 2023-present)

Dunube4all is a supported effort to restore ocean and waters of Europe. The goal of this project is to restore freshwater ecosystems in the Danube River Basin by 2030. The project employs a cross-sector approach to tackle the wide range of environmental issues within the Danube River Basin. These encompass the significant loss of river connectivity, related ecosystem decline, declines in biodiversity, and the necessity for fresh approaches to nature-centered solutions that can rejuvenate our relationship with the river.[30]

See also


  1. ^ Brinson, Mark M. (August 1993). A hydrogeomorphic clasification for wetlands (Report). U.S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station.
  2. ^ https://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/Publications/Water_Issue_Briefs/PDF/Water_Issue_Brief_1.pdf
  3. ^ "Why are Wetlands Important? - Wetlands (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 2023-10-15.
  4. ^ "Wetland Functions and Values: Water Storage for Flood Water and Storm Runoff | Department of Environmental Conservation". dec.vermont.gov. Retrieved 2023-10-15.
  5. ^ "Wetlands- Nature's Water Filters". Ducks Unlimited Canada: Conserving Canada's Wetlands. 1996–2012. Archived from the original on 2012-03-22.
  6. ^ https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-02/documents/wetlandfunctionsvalues.pdf
  7. ^ academic.oup.com https://academic.oup.com/aob/article/105/1/155/245730?login=false. Retrieved 2023-10-16. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ https://www.ramsar.org/sites/default/files/documents/tmp/pdf/wwd/8/cd/wwd2008-a10%20medicine.pdf
  9. ^ "EPA: Why are Wetlands Important?". United States Environmental Protection Agency. March 22, 2023.
  10. ^ Mitsch, William J.; Bernal, Blanca; Nahlik, Amanda M.; Mander, Ülo; Zhang, Li; Anderson, Christopher J.; Jørgensen, Sven E.; Brix, Hans (2013-04-01). "Wetlands, carbon, and climate change". Landscape Ecology. 28 (4): 583–597. Bibcode:2013LaEco..28..583M. doi:10.1007/s10980-012-9758-8. ISSN 1572-9761. S2CID 254748632.
  11. ^ "Carbon Sequestration in Wetlands | MN Board of Water, Soil Resources". bwsr.state.mn.us. Retrieved 2023-10-15.
  12. ^ US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA (June 6, 2023). "May is American Wetlands Month".
  13. ^ "Wetland Functions and Values | Watershed Academy Web | US EPA". cfpub.epa.gov. Retrieved 2023-10-15.
  14. ^ Xu, Ting; Weng, Baisha; Yan, Denghua; Wang, Kun; Li, Xiangnan; Bi, Wuxia; Li, Meng; Cheng, Xiangjun; Liu, Yinxue (January 2019). "Wetlands of International Importance: Status, Threats, and Future Protection". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 16 (10): 1818. doi:10.3390/ijerph16101818. ISSN 1660-4601. PMC 6571829. PMID 31121932.
  15. ^ Powers, Ryan P (March 2019). "Global habitat loss and extinction risk of terrestrial vertebrates under future land-use-change scenarios". Nature Climate Change. 9 (4): 323. Bibcode:2019NatCC...9..323P. doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0406-z. S2CID 92315899.
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  18. ^ "Wetlands and plastic pollution | The Convention on Wetlands". www.ramsar.org. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  19. ^ McCarter, Colin; Waddington, Mike (2023-07-16). "Pollution timebombs: Contaminated wetlands are ticking towards ignition". The Conversation. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  20. ^ "Wetlands and invasive species". Wildlife Drones. 2022-02-02. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  21. ^ https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/wildlife_damage/fsc-nutria-invasive-rodent.pdf
  22. ^ Salimi, Shokoufeh; Almuktar, Suhad A. A. A. N.; Scholz, Miklas (2021-05-15). "Impact of climate change on wetland ecosystems: A critical review of experimental wetlands". Journal of Environmental Management. 286: 112160. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112160. ISSN 0301-4797. PMID 33611067. S2CID 231989149.
  23. ^ "Wetlands: Implications of Climate Change: ERIT: Environmental Resilience Institute: Indiana University". Environmental Resilience Institute. Retrieved 2023-10-27.
  24. ^ https://www2.dnr.state.mi.us/publications/pdfs/huntingwildlifehabitat/landowners_guide/Resource_Dir/Acrobat/Wetland_Restoration_Techniques.PDF
  25. ^ Fisheries, NOAA (2022-09-02). "NOAA's Largest Wetland Restoration Project Underway in Louisiana | NOAA Fisheries". NOAA. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  26. ^ "Landscape Restoration - Eden's Impact on Landscape Restoration". Eden Reforestation Projects. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  27. ^ https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/circ1182/pdf/12Everglades.pdf
  28. ^ "2021 Everglades Restoration: A Snapshot of Projects and Funding". 24 January 2022.
  29. ^ "Wetland Conservation Strategy and Priority Actions in the Yellow River Basin". Paulson Institute. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  30. ^ John Tarpey, Dr Manuel Lago (2023-01-01). "Restoration of the Danube River Basin Waters for Ecosystems and People from Mountains to Coast (DANUBE4all)". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)