Protecting the World’s Wetlands: 5 Essential Reads
By Jennifer Weeks
World Wetlands Day on Feb. 2 marks the date when 18 nations signed the Convention on Wetlands in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Since that time, scientists have shown that wetlands provide many valuable services, from buffering coasts against floods to filtering water and storing carbon. These five articles from our archive highlight wetlands' diversity and the potential payoffs from conserving and restoring them.
1. Soaking Up Floodwaters
Wetlands line coasts in many parts of the world. They act as natural sponges that soak up floodwaters and absorb force from storm surges, protecting communities further inland.
Working with Lloyds of London, UC Santa Cruz researchers Siddharth Narayana and Michael Beck sought to quantify the value of these functions. Using insurance industry storm surge models, they calculated that during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, wetlands along the U.S. Atlantic coast prevented more than $625 million in direct property damage by reducing storm surge. They also estimated that marshes in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey reduced annual losses from flooding during smaller storms by an average of 16 percent, and up to 70 percent in some locations.
Narayan and Beck see restoring wetlands as an effective way to make coastal communities more resilient against storms and flooding:
"Across the United States, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, coastal communities face a crucial question: Can they rebuild in ways that make them better prepared for the next storm, while also conserving the natural resources that make these locations so valuable? Our work shows that the answer is yes."
2. Carbon-Rich Mud
Wetlands store large quantities of carbon in plant tissue and soils. But as climate expert Williams Moomaw and wetland scientists Gillian Davies and Max Finlayson point out, no global climate change agreement calls for protecting wetlands as a way to slow climate change. And around the globe, wetlands are constantly being drained, diked and paved over.
Coastal wetlands can extend well inland, transitioning from saltwater to brackish and freshwater. EPA
In contrast, forest protection gets a special section in the Paris agreement, which offers developing countries incentives to protect and expand tropical forests as carbon sinks. Moomaw, Davies and Finlayson believe wetlands deserve equal attention:
"In our view, instead of draining swamps and weakening protections, governments at all levels should take action immediately to conserve and restore wetlands as a climate strategy. Protecting the climate and avoiding climate-associated damage from storms, flooding and drought is a much higher use for wetlands than altering them for short-term economic gains."
3. 'Blue Carbon' Banks
Mangrove forests, which grow in salt water in tropical regions, are especially effective at locking up "blue carbon"—so called to distinguish it from "green" carbon storage on land. Louisiana State University scientists Robert Twilley and Andre Rovai estimate that "the wood and soil of mangrove forests along the world's coastlines hold 3 billion metric tons of carbon—more than tropical forests."
Coastal development is an enormous threat to mangroves, whether for vacation homes in Florida or aquaculture farms in Asia. Twilley and Rovai wanted to pinpoint what type of mangroves were the most effective at storing carbon. By comparing conditions in different settings where mangroves flourish, they determined that river deltas and estuaries offer the best conditions for mangrove growth and carbon uptake:
"Overall, mangroves in deltaic coasts such as the Mississippi River delta, the Amazon in Brazil and the Sundarbans in India and Bangladesh can sequester more carbon yearly than any other aquatic or terrestrial ecosystem on the globe. These are the world's blue carbon hot spots."
4. Mangroves Versus Marshes
Mangroves are actually benefiting from climate change in some regions, such as Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Villanova University biologist Samantha Chapman has found that mangroves are becoming more abundant in these areas, moving into zones formerly dominated by salt marshes, which typically are found in cooler zones.
Mangroves protect coasts more effectively against large waves, so this change isn't necessarily harmful. However, as Chapman says:
" ... it is important to note that marsh plants provide important habitats for numerous species of birds and fish. We don't yet know how these animals will fare as mangroves replace marshes, nor do we yet understand other downsides of plant range shifts due to climate change."
Moreover, she notes, mangroves are not building new shoreline quickly enough to keep up with sea level rise in all locations. As her findings show, there is still much to learn about how climate change will affect different types of wetlands in various locations.
Saving One of the Most Pristine Wetlands on Earth | National Geographic youtu.be
5. Small Streams, Big Roles
Wetlands aren't just found along the coasts. Many major rivers, such as the Colorado and the Mississippi, start as networks of small streams, some of which may only flow during certain seasons or when it rains. But as Colorado State University geoscientist Ellen Wohl explains, a lot happens in these small tributaries and isolated wetlands that affects the larger rivers downstream:
"Marvelously adapted organisms in dry streams wait for periods when life-giving water flows in. When the water comes, these creatures burst into action … Amphibians move down from forests to temporarily flooded vernal wetlands to breed. Tiny fish, such as brassy minnows … speed through breeding and laying eggs that then grow into mature fish in a short period of time."
Brassy minnows, found throughout the northern U.S. and Canada, live in cool, slow moving streams, creeks, overflow ponds near rivers, boggy lakes and ditches.Ellen Wohl, CC BY-ND
Small channels in river networks also harbor microbes that are very good at removing contaminants from the water. And these channels slow down heavy rainfalls, allowing water to soak into the ground and reducing the risk of flooding downstream.
The Trump administration is seeking to rewrite a key section of the Clean Water Act, eliminating federal protection for many of these small streams and wetlands. Such action, Wohl contends, "will strip rivers of their ability to provide water clean enough to support life, and will enhance the spiral of increasingly damaging floods that is already occurring nationwide."
#nowreading | Amazon #Mangroves ‘Twice as Carbon Rich’ as Its Rainforests https://t.co/uopPyJWP6w via @EcoWatch https://t.co/Z9ixvtiejS— FAO Forestry (@FAO Forestry)1536287405.0
Jennifer Weeks is the Environment + Energy editor of The Conversation.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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