Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy World Wetlands Day!

biking through the wetlands in Chincoteague VA
Biking through the wetlands in Chincoteague VA
February 2nd is World Wetlands Day!  And you just thought it was Groundhog Day.  Well, although the wetlands folks aren't quite as famous as the Punxsatawney gang, they're just as enthusiastic!  On February 2, 1971, countries from around the world signed the International Convention on Wetlands, the mission of which was “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world."  A wetland is a transitional zone between shallow water and upland habitats.  Wetlands can be tidal or non-tidal, and they can be emergent (picture a wetland near a beach), shrub (picture Huntley Meadows here in northern VA), or forested (picture that plot of forest that lies pretty low and frequently has muddy areas).  Land managers use three different indicators to figure out if an area is a wetland.  First they look for signs of “hydrology,” or signs that water has gone through the area – things like streams or creeks, trees with buttressed trunks, or debris in low-hanging branches.  Second, they look for specific types of soil that tell them that the soil is often flooded.  And finally, they look for plants that like to have “wet feet.”
Cattails at Huntley Meadows
So why do we care about wetlands?  Wetlands provide an incredibly important ecosystem service – they clean water!  After water has run through a wetland, cleaner water is delivered downstream.  Thus, if the rain that hit your local street and mixed with all of the oil and other schmutz found on the road, wetlands will help clean the water before it continues downstream.  Reason #2, wetlands act like giant sponges, absorbing water after rainfall, to prevent flooding downstream.  And besides pollution and flood control, wetlands are rich in biodiversity.  They provide spawning areas and nurseries for fish, flyways for migrating birds, and food and cover for mammals such as muskrats (and groundhogs too, for those die-hard Punxsatawney fans).
Happy World Wetlands Day -- let’s appreciate our wetlands and strive to protect this valuable natural resource!

1 comment:

  1. Last two entries were very interesting. Keep them coming,