If you live on the coast or in some hinterland regions, you are most likely to live in or near wetlands. According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, “wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peat or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with static or flowing water, fresh , salty or salt, including areas of marine water the low tide depth does not exceed six meters. ”
Inland wetlands include ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, marshes and marshes. Coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, mangroves, lagoons, estuaries, and coral reefs.
There are also man-made wetlands, such as fishponds, rice paddles, and salt pans.
Wetlands can be thought of as giant sponges. They absorb water from many different sources during wet periods, and release it slowly into the surrounding areas during dry periods. In this way, wetlands can help reduce flooding, mitigate the impact of drought, and replenish groundwater supplies.
On February 02, Guyana will join the rest of the world to observe World Wetlands Day, a day to reflect on the importance of wetlands and to highlight issues affecting these vital ecosystems. In fact, 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the historic signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. This year’s theme, “Wetlands and Water”, highlights wetlands as a freshwater source, and encourages actions to restore and prevent loss. We face a growing freshwater crisis that threatens people and our planet. In fact, there is a growing global tension surrounding freshwater consumption. We use more fresh water than nature can replenish, and we destroy the ecosystem that water and life all depend on most – wetlands. This year’s theme highlights the contribution of wetlands to the quantity and quality of freshwater on our planet.
One of the most important benefits that wetlands provide is their ability to maintain and improve water quality. When healthy, wetlands have a rich natural diversity of plants and animals, which can act as filtration systems, removing sediment, nutrients and pollutants from water. The ability of wetlands to maintain and improve water quality is under threat because human activity and extreme weather conditions have had a significant impact on water flow, nutrient balance and biodiversity.
Changing water flow
The water regime is how rivers and wetlands change in response to rainfall and groundwater flow. It contains the amount of water present, its length and location. There are many ways in which a water system can be affected, especially by humans. These include damming rivers, pumping water, and building farm or bank dams that alter drainage patterns.
Why do we need healthy wetlands?
As well as improving and maintaining water quality, wetlands provide many other benefits to humans and other living beings:
* When healthy, their soils and vegetation can capture, process and store nutrients and / or contaminants; and if the natural rhythms and flows of the wetland are not disturbed, the release of potential stressors, such as sediments, nutrients, acids and / or metals, from the soil can be prevented.
* Healthy wetlands can help eliminate harmful bacteria, and wetlands can also be important in managing urban storm water and effluent by improving the removal of nutrients, suspended material, and pathogens from water before returning to the environment.
* Healthy wetland ecosystems, such as mangroves and seagrass beds, provide not only habitat for wildlife, but shelter for younger fish, allowing local fishing to thrive, and providing sources of income generation for local communities.
* Furthermore, in Guyana and other parts of the world, entire mangrove ecosystems have been proven to protect against natural hazards such as tsunamis and high tides.
* In addition, carbon and greenhouse gases are stored in sinks in wetlands, instead of being released into the atmosphere.
Threats to wetlands
Wetlands are threatened by earthworks, drainage, abstraction, climate change, poor agricultural practices, wild animals such as wild pigs, invasive plants, and uncontrolled fires. The effects of these activities and trespasses include:
* Erosion, leading to increased sediment blocking light to aquatic plants and smothering aquatic animals.
* Introduction and removal of contaminants such as herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.
* Excessive supply of nutrients, leading to rapid and unpredictable growth of plants and algae, blocking light and, in the case of blue-green algal blooms, producing toxins affecting wildlife and human stock.
* Increase in water tables due to loss of vegetation.
* Increased soil salinity, as the salts found naturally in soils move closer to the surface, where it cannot obstruct vegetation growth; a
* Release acids and metals into the soil, which subsequently affects water quality. This can lead to fish disease, dominance of acid-tolerant species, contamination of groundwater, reduced agricultural productivity, and damage to infrastructure by corrosion.
Wetlands in Guyana
In Guyana, the northern Rupununi wetland is the largest in the country, covering 22,000 hectares of savannah and flooded forest. The North Rupununi wetland is dominated by the rivers Rupununi, Rewa and Essequibo, and contains over 750 lakes, ponds and water inlets. More than 400 species of fish, the highest variety of fish in the world for areas of similar size, are found in the Rupununi wetlands. This area is also home to some of the world’s most endangered giants – the Arapaima (the largest freshwater fish), the giant river otter (the largest of the 13 species of otters), the black caiman (Alligatorinae subfamily the largest world), giant river turtles, the harpy eagle (the largest bird of prey), the jaguar (the largest cat in South America) and hundreds of other plants and animals.
The Rupununi wetlands play a very important role in the lives of more than 5000 indigenous people of Guyana. The rivers and waterways found in the wetlands act as a source of drinking water and a main transportation route for the people living in the Rupununi.
The vegetation found in the wetlands is used by our Indigenous tribes to make crafts, traditional medicine, houses, and sometimes food.
Protection of wetlands in Guyana
The Guyrove Mangrove Restoration Project was implemented during 2010-2013 under the National Institute of Agricultural Research and Extension. Following completion of the Project phase, and given the importance of mangroves to Guyana’s coastal defenses, mangrove restoration and management was integrated into NAREI in 2014.
You can also do your bit to protect wetlands in Guyana. Tune in to radio and TV to hear about our celebration of wetlands.
Visit our social media platforms to participate in our quiz competition, and tune in to our panel discussion on February 02. Happy Wetlands Day!