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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This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
<p>Why environmental refugees flee their homes is a complicated mixture of environmental degradation and desperate socioeconomic conditions. People leave their homes when their livelihoods and safety are jeopardized. What effects of climate change put them in jeopardy? Climate change triggers, among other problems, desertification and drought, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/deforestation.htm" target="_blank">deforestation</a>, land degradation, rising sea levels, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/flood.htm" target="_blank">floods</a>, more frequent and more extreme storms, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/earthquake.htm" target="_blank">earthquakes</a>, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/volcano.htm" target="_blank">volcanoes</a>, food insecurity and famine.</p><p>The September <a href="http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2020/09/ETR_2020_web-1.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Ecological Threat Register Report</a>, by the Institute for Economics & Peace, predicts the hardest hit populations will be:</p><ul><li>Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa</li><li>Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan (which are among the world's least peaceful countries)</li><li>Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran are most at risk for mass displacements</li><li>Haiti faces the highest risk of all countries in Central America and the Caribbean</li><li>India and China will be among countries experiencing high or extreme water stress</li></ul>
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