Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. There are many kinds of wetlands, and all are chock full of microbes, plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish and mammals.
To understand how vital wetlands are, imagine a mystery box with the following items inside: a sponge, a small pillow, a small doll crib, a bottle of antacid tablets, a box of cereal, and a strainer.
A wetland acts like a sponge, absorbing excess water caused by stormwater runoff. Some wetlands, particularly those on floodplains and in coastal areas, function as flood control by storing excess water during storm events. The loss of wetlands along the Gulf coast contributed to the horrific devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The small pillow signifies that a wetland is a resting place. Migratory birds depend on wetlands to survive their flights between their breeding grounds and their winter habitats. It is estimated that some 75% of all waterfowl breed exclusively in wetlands!
The small doll crib explains that a wetland serves as a nursery, providing shelter, protection, and food for young wildlife. Many species of fish that are important for commercial and personal use spend part, or all, of their life cycles in fertile wetlands adjacent to larger, more open bodies of water. This includes bass, salmon, walleye, perch and pickerel. Coastal wetlands are essential habitats for fish, shellfish, blue crabs and shrimp. Locally, frogs, toads, turtles, salamanders, snakes, dragonflies, water striders, clams, and crayfish flourish in wetland habitats. Many mammals such as deer, beaver, otter, black bear, and others depend on wetlands, too.
The bottle of antacid demonstrates that wetlands eliminate toxic substances by trapping and neutralizing pollutants. This natural filtering system is similar to the work that kidneys do for our bodies, keeping our blood clean and chemically balanced.
The box of cereal represents food provided by wetlands for people and for wildlife, Mother Nature’s biological supermarket. In addition to fish and shellfish, wetlands grow rice and cranberries. The list grows when we consider recreational hunting for ducks, deer, and other wildlife that are harvested for the dinner table.
Lastly, the strainer symbolizes that wetlands hold back sediment and debris so that clean water can flow into our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans.
These are just a few excellent examples of the importance of wetlands to water quality, locally and around the world. Unfortunately, a huge percentage of our nation’s wetlands have been lost or degraded due to human impacts such as drainage, dredging, deposition of fill material, diking, damming and mining.
Because we have lost so many of our original wetlands, it is critically important to protect and restore what remains. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, in partnership with farmers and private landowners, has enhanced and preserved 25,000 acres of Ohio’s wetlands since 2005. In addition, the H2Ohio program is creating, restoring, and improving wetlands to capture excess nutrients, store carbon, and expand habitat for a diverse array of wildlife.
You can be the change for clean water by learning more about wetlands and their unique qualities. Preservation Parks of Delaware County has the following locations, just a short drive away:
• Deer Haven Park – Four wetlands, two of which can be seen via boardwalks. The other two are visible from a distance.
• Emily Traphagen Park – A small wetland is located along the trail.
• Gallant Woods Park – This park has the largest concentration of wetlands and vernal pools within the park district. Several of the wetlands and vernal pools are adjacent to the trails. One educational wetland is accessible via a boardwalk.
• Blues Creek Park – Several wetlands/vernal pools are visible along the trails. One is right on the trail.
Discover the wonders of wetlands firsthand by visiting one near you.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to https://soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us/.