EarthTalk: Why are wetlands so important to
preserve? – Patricia Mancuso, Erie, PA
serve a variety of important ecological functions
including feeding downstream waters, trapping floodwaters,
recharging groundwater supplies, removing pollution
and providing fish and wildlife habitat.
© iStock Photo
include swamps, marshes, bogs, riverbanks, mangroves, floodplains,
rice fields—and anywhere else, according to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that saturation with
water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil
development and the types of plant and animal communities
there. They are widespread in every country and on every
continent except Antarctica. If all the world’s wetlands
were put together, they would take up an area one-third
larger than the United States.
biologists and others concerned about the health of the
planet and its inhabitants recognize the key role wetlands
play in life on Earth. The EPA points out that, besides
containing a disproportionately high number of plant and
animal species compared to other land forms, wetlands serve
a variety of ecological services including feeding downstream
waters, trapping floodwaters, recharging groundwater supplies,
removing pollution and providing fish and wildlife habitat.
Wetlands can also be key drivers of local economies, given
their importance to agriculture, recreation and fishing.
to Wetlands International, a global non-profit dedicated
to the conservation and restoration of wetlands around the
world, wetlands are on the “front-line” as development
pressures increase everywhere. “Wetlands are vulnerable
to over-exploitation due to their abundance of fish, fuel
and water,” reports the group, which works on the
ground in 18 countries to educate the public and policymakers
about the health of local wetlands and to advocate for better
policies. “When they are viewed as unproductive or
marginal lands, wetlands are targeted for drainage and conversion.”
rate of loss and deterioration of wetlands is accelerating
in all regions of the world,” the group adds. “The
pressure on wetlands is likely to intensify in the coming
decades due to increased global demand for land and water,
as well as climate change.”
widespread expansion of development in the U.S. in recent
decades has brought the issue of wetlands loss to the forefront
of debates on zoning and land use planning. One of the key
and underlying issues is concern about endangered species:
More than a third of species on the U.S. Endangered Species
List live only in wetlands and almost half use them at some
time during their lifecycles.
the issue lingers on in municipal planning meetings around
the country, the federal government does what it can to
protect wetlands. It does so through regulations spelled
out in the Clean Water Act, which include providing tax
incentives for selling or giving wetlands to land trusts
or other conservation groups, via cooperative efforts with
state and local entities, and by acquiring wetlands outright
to add acreage to public lands systems. And several states
have passed laws to regulate activities in wetlands, and
many municipalities include wetlands conservation in their
development permitting and zoning processes.
can do their part by staying current on local zoning laws,
keeping an eye on local wetlands and speaking up if something
looks amiss. Potential problems are much easier to resolve
early on than after damage is done, so speaking up soon
can often lead to more successful and less contentious outcomes.
EPA Wetlands, water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/;
Wetlands International, www.wetlands.org.
NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!
EarthTalk: What is the “All
One Ocean” campaign? – Bill O’Neill,
Los Angeles, CA
to popular myth that most ocean pollution is oil
spilled from ships, most of it is land-based litter.
Pictured: Plastic litter on a beach, before clean-up.
Bo Eide, courtesy Flickr
All One Ocean
is a non-profit campaign launched in 2010 by long-time author,
activist and organizer Hallie Austen Iglehart with the goal
of reducing the amount of plastic and other trash that ends
up in the ocean where it compromises the health of marine
wildlife and ecosystems. Iglehart was incensed to learn
that a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles
die each year from ingesting plastic in the water column—and
created All One Ocean to do something about it.
Contrary to popular
myth that most ocean pollution is oil spilled from ships,
most of it is land-based litter. “The most dangerous
litter is our throw-away plastic because of its longevity
and capacity to increase in toxicity, eventually returning
to the human food chain in a more lethal form,” reports
our plastic ends up in the ocean in giant collections of
trash called gyres, created by circular ocean currents,”
she adds. “They trap debris for decades where it continues
to break into ever smaller, more toxic pieces, never fully
biodegrading.” Of particular concern to Iglehart is
the fact that much of this carelessly discarded plastic
winds up in the bellies of marine life, contaminating not
just ocean ecosystems but in some cases the very seafood
on our dinner plates.
The main project
of All One Ocean is the creation and maintenance of permanent,
community supported Beach Clean Up Stations, which are essentially
boxes containing reusable bags for beach visitors to use
in picking up trash during their time on the sand and in
the surf. The idea is to empty any garbage into a trash
can somewhere (so it can find its way to a landfill instead
of out into the ocean) and then ideally return the bag empty
to the box. Each clean-up station also provides a sign with
information on the extent of the problem and other ways
individuals can help. The idea, according to Iglehart, is
to provide “a simple, doable way for people to have
fun cleaning up trash as they enjoy their beach activities.”
Clean Up Station is a practical way to insure that clean
up is happening everyday on all our beaches,” says
Iglehart. “Like ‘adopt a highway’ campaigns,
Beach Clean Up Stations create community around care for
and education about these clean up hubs.”
She would like
to see Beach Clean Up Stations in place at coastal and even
freshwater beaches all around the world, but for now the
group is starting out in Northern California. The first
one was put in place at Limantour Beach at the Point Reyes
National Seashore in Marin County there, with several following
at other San Francisco Bay area beaches. Iglehart hopes
the campaign will encourage people to reconsider their consumption
of single use plastics, since the production and distribution
of such items contributes not just to the demise of the
oceans but also to increased global warming.
Unlike many environmental
issues that seem beyond our control, cleaning up beaches
is something anyone can do and indeed every little bit helps.
“Every tiny piece of human trash picked up,”
Iglehart reminds us, “is one less toxin in someone’s
All One Ocean, www.alloneocean.org.
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