To an outsider, a wetland or marsh may seem like a muddy, swampy mess...not to mention the smells. I even shared this similar misconception at one time in my youth. But after my first experience wading through a wetland, I was hooked! Don't get me wrong, I didn't jump straight into the wetland wearing a swimsuit and bare feet; I quickly developed a fond appreciation for my neoprene waders- no matter how hot or humid the weather. And walking through a marsh is no easy feat. Whether it is the lack of visibility to see where you are stepping, or the thigh-high muck engulphing you at times, once you establish your “marsh-legs” and the smells eventually fade away like background noise, you will be well on your way to discovering an exciting ecosystem that you maybe never knew existed.
Wetlands, and the species inhabiting them, are extremely important for us and our environment. Often referred to as “nature’s kidneys,” wetlands have the ability to improve water quality by slowing down the flow of water, utilizing excess nutrients and pollutants from runoff, and allowing sediments to settle. Coastal wetlands are particularly important because they are the last natural attempt of purifying water prior to reaching a main water reserve such as Lake Erie.
Wetlands are hotspots for animal and plant biodiversity. Many species of animals utilize wetlands for part or all of their lifecycles. Fish species such as Northern pike, Channel catfish, Bluegill, and dozens of other species rely heavily on wetlands for spawning or habitat purposes. Hundreds of species of migratory birds and waterfowl are dependent on wetlands, especially Ohio coastal wetlands because this is the last stop where birds can refuel before they make their flight across the Great Lakes. Many other animals, such as beavers, deer, eagles, muskrats, turtles, snakes, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates use wetlands for part or even all of their life cycles.
Wetlands can help mitigate climate change because of their ability to sequester and store large quantities of “blue carbon” (carbon that is stored naturally by coastal aquatic ecosystems), preventing it from being released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the major driver of climate change. Wetlands also protect coastal communities from floods because of their ability to hold excess water and this is important with the growing amount of large storms, hurricanes, and floods the United States has experienced in recent years.
Wetlands are also an economy booster and bring in revenue by means of fishing and hunting licenses, birding, kayaking, hiking, other outdoor recreational activities, and also by creating jobs.
But wait! There must be a reason why I am trying to convince everyone to love and appreciate wetlands as much as I do…and this is because wetlands are in desperate need of our help. Since the time of European settlers, approximately 80% of Ohio wetlands have been lost to development or agriculture and many remaining wetlands are highly degraded because of anthropogenic forces such as invasive species or excess pollutants.
CSWCD and other organizations work to add urban wetlands to cities and towns, and also work to restore and protect our existing wetlands. Urban wetlands can fulfil an important function in improving the quality of surface water and purifying precipitation runoff by eliminating phosphates, nitrates, solid substances and heavy metals typically found in city stormwater.
There are also steps citizens like yourself can take to help preserve our beautiful wetlands:
- Get involved by joining a clean-up in your community and help spread the word!
- Install rain barrels to help reduce urban and suburban runoff.
- Be smart about lawn and garden fertilizer and other household cleaning products that eventually make their way into our water system. Always make environmentally friendly choices.
- Plant rain gardens to help absorb and soak in stormwater. Always choose native species when planting.
- Use living shoreline techniques if you have waterfront property or a stream in your backyard, making use of plant roots to stabilize soil.
- Enjoy scenic and recreational access to wetlands and other natural areas while preserving their integrity for future generations.
I hope by the end of this blog I have changed at least one person’s attitude towards what they once thought were muddy, swampy messes, but are actually beautiful, natural, and important landscapes of our world that are in desperate need of our love and care.
Now get outside and explore a wetland! You are guaranteed to witness something amazing!
Blog Author: Jaimie Johnson, Watershed Coordinator