Today is World Wetlands Day. February 2 marks the 1971 date when 18 nations signed the Convention on Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar (thus references to the “Ramsar convention” that usually accompany discussion about wetlands and their conservation). World Wetlands Day’s purpose is to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and the planet.
The theme this year is Wetlands and Climate Change, drawing attention to wetlands as a natural solution to cope with climate change.
Chris Bird is the director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department. He described the importance of Florida’s wetlands: “In addition to functioning as nature’s kidneys by filtering water, wetlands are helping to make our landscapes more resilient to the effects of climate change such as extreme flooding and extended droughts.”
Since Florida became a state, we have lost 44% of our wetlands to draining and development. Wetlands provide many environmental, social, and economic benefits. These benefits include floodwater storage, protection from weather events, pollution control, drinking water recharge, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and tourism.
Florida has different types of wetlands. On the coast there tidal salt marshes and mangrove swamps; inland there are cypress swamps, freshwater marshes, and areas close to river and stream systems called riparian wetlands. The most well known wetlands in Florida, and perhaps the world, are the Everglades, 1.5 million acres of wetland in South Florida.
To be classified as a wetland, an area of land must have water on the ground’s surface or in the root zone for at least a portion of the growing season. This seasonal fluctuation of the water period (known as a hydroperiod), is continually affected by the weather, the season, water feeding into and draining from nearby streams, the surrounding watershed and other nearby bodies of water.
Jennifer Weeks with The Conversation shares some important resources about World Wetlands Day in her article “Protecting the world’s wetlands: Five essential reads.”
UF/IFAS has an incredibly informative (albeit outdated) website that goes into more detail about Florida’s wetland systems (and we do mean outdated; the last update was in 2009).
For a truly international viewpoint, visit the Ramsar Convention website, https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/.