The wondrous world of wetlands

Nature and Environment

What are wetlands?

Wetlands are hard to define since they are so complex and always changing. Merriam-Webster says that wetlands are "land or areas that are covered often intermittently with shallow water or have soil saturated with moisture." They are also distinct ecosystems and animal habitats with their own vegetation and are important for water purification, shoreline stability and flood control.

Nature and Environment

The mangroves in Sundarbans

The Sundarbans is the world's largest coastal mangrove ecosystem and spans an area between the Indian and Bangladeshi coasts. These forests are an important segue from the salty ocean to freshwater and earthy systems, and create habitats for many types of fish, crab and shrimp. The unique wetland is also home to endangered Bengal tigers, leopards, boars, spotted deer and protects against erosion.

Nature and Environment

Northern Europe's Wadden Sea

Nestled along the coast of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands is a unique intertidal zone called the Wadden Sea. In a constant state of flux, it stretches nearly 500 kilometers and includes the tidal flats and wetlands between the mainland and the assorted North Sea islands. Though not as rich in fauna as it once was, the area still attracts hundreds of thousands of migrating birds each year.

Nature and Environment

Bogs are not only for fuel

Wetlands that gradually accumulate peat are called bogs. Peat is a deposit of dead plant material — usually moss — and can be several meters deep. Bogs, otherwise known as mires or quagmires, are usually found in the northern hemisphere in places like Canada, Russia and northern Europe. But recently scientists realized that a tropical peatland in the Congo Basin was "as big as England."

Nature and Environment

Seasons of change in Pantanal

Spread over Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Pantanal is one of the biggest tropical wetlands in the world. But it is only a seasonal wetland since it experiences periods of both flooding and desiccation. During the rainy seasons much of its area is under water only to later dry out. Not surprisingly the name has its roots in Portuguese: "pântano" means wetland, swamp or marsh.

Nature and Environment

Swamps are more than alligators

Wetlands come in all shapes and sizes. When they support forests they are called swamps. These natural phenomenon most often form next to large rivers or lakes and support diverse flora and fauna. In many cases water levels fluctuate and can include fresh, brackish or even salty water. Swamps are found all over the globe; some of the largest straddle the Amazon, Mississippi or Congo rivers.

Nature and Environment

The Volga delta

Covering the area where the Volga River enters the Caspian Sea, the Volga delta stretches from Russia to Kazakhstan. Over the last century the delta has grown enormously because of changing sea levels and is now nearly 160 kilometer wide. The landscape is full of reeds, cattails, sand dunes, islands and meadows. Shallow water provides home for fish, while plants offer nesting areas for birds.

Nature and Environment

Let's give wetlands a hand

Though wetlands can seem huge and indestructible, they are very susceptible to climate change and defenseless against human destruction. They are important cogs in the ecosystem and need to be better cared for. Once a bog dries out it is hard to restore since amassing peat takes decades. Planting mangroves in dry soil is pointless and revitalizing a drained swamp is nearly impossible.

Nature offers an array of different natural wonders - wetlands are some of the most delicate and diverse. They give homes to millions of animals and help regulate the global water supply. Some don't even look wet.