Wednesday, February 4, 2015

6 Wildlife Facts for World Wetlands Day

2/2/2015 // By Maggie Yancey
Forty-four years ago on February 2, 1971, on the Caspian Sea, a group of forward-thinking world leaders gathered to set-forth a framework for international cooperation to conserve the world’s wetlands. This day, World Wetlands Day, is a significant reminder of the boundless value of wetlands. In fact, globally, wetlands are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems. Despite these unique features, the Clean Water Act, which is the chief defense for wetland conservation, has had many of its most critical protections for wetlands dismantled since the law’s inception.
An egret in flight over the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge — a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Kim Taylor.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed protections to restore laws making wetlands less vulnerable to destruction and pollution. However, the proposed rule must survive the new congress to be implemented. Support for wetland protection is essential for ensuring these ecosystems are protected today and for future generations.
These six facts about wildlife and wetlands will hopefully reinvigorate passion for the habitat that provides us with so many benefits. Protections are a cheap and easy gift after learning about the many presents that wetlands provide all of us throughout the country.
1. Up to 1/2 of North American bird species nest or feed in wetlands.
Wetlands provide a valuable habitat for birds. Like the American avocet featured here on the Sand Lake Wetland Management, wetlands are essential for the prosperity of birds.
Avocet at Bolsa Chica Wetlands in California. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Randall Ward.
2. More than 1/3 of endangered species rely directly, or indirectly, on wetlands for survival.
The Florida manatee is one of the many endangered species reliant on the protection of wetlands. Manatee populations have plummeted primarily due to the destruction of wetland habitats for residential developments, because the spring-fed rivers that provide their habitats depend on healthy rivers.
A manatee nurses her calf in the warm waters of the Three Sister’s Spring. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant John Muhilly.
3. An acre of wetland can store 1–1.5 million gallons of floodwater.
Protecting wetlands is essential as their support is the first line of defense for flood control. Unfortunately, communities prone to floods that depend on wetlands have to regularly fight to ensure the wetland’s preservation. The swamp rabbit featured above is a wetland species that resides on the Missouri flood plain currently threatened by a project proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) that the EPA should immediately veto. The Corps is pushing the St. Johns/New Madrid Levee Project to construct a 60-foot tall levee that would ultimately sever the last remaining connection between the Mississippi and its precious Missouri flood plain.
A Swamp Rabbit browsing on tender green shoots in the water. H.A.S. Boy Scout Woods, High Island, TX. Photo by Lindell Dillon.
4. Over 75% of commercially harvested fish are wetland-dependent. That number is 95% when we add shellfish species.
Not only are wetlands important for recreational fishing and hunting, strong wetlands are a huge driver of the commercial fishing industry, like Carp – which the below Blue Heron is having for dinner. Shellfish and mollusks also benefit, so as oyster season picks-up note that healthy wetlands are a contributor to a successful season.
Cheryl Molennor snapped a shot of this great blue heron with its catch by Anclote Pier in Florida. She later noticed the fish’s alarmed expression.
5. Wetlands filter, clean and store water—acting like kidneys for other ecosystems!
The filtering capabilities of wetlands is essential for runoff carrying excess nutrients and harmful pollutants. A study determined that the filtering capabilities of the Congaree Bottomland Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina is equivalent to over $5 million in costs if the water was treated at a waste water treatment plant. As local budgets face surmounting challenges, wetlands provides an affordable and effective means for filtering water.
Sunrise over the Orlando Wetlands Park in Florida. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Jonathan Burket.
 6. Ecosystem balance depends on wetlands.
The Great Horned Owls are found all over North America, but one of the owl’s favorite spaces are open habitats like wetlands. While wetlands are known for being a host to invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles, the diverse habitat also provides a home to many different types of mammals like the owl. Also, permanent residents are commonly the river otter and muskrats.
A great horned owl watches over its chick in a nest near Golden, Colorado. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant John Vess.
Tricolored heron at Wetlands Stone Harbor in New Jersey. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Patricia Aspinwall.