Future of the Environment

World Wetlands Day: 5 things to know about these carbon sinks

Wetland.

40% of all species live or breed in wetlands. Image: Unsplash/Tyler Butler

Tom Crowfoot
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of the Environment

  • World Wetlands Day is celebrated on 2 February.
  • This year's theme, 'It’s Time for Wetlands Restoration', urges countries around the world to prioritize the restoration of these ecosystems.
  • From their ability to store carbon to the ways they can counter extreme weather events, here are five things you should know about wetland habitats.

What springs to mind when you think of wetlands?

Thanks to famous literature, TV series and films you might conjure up images of a sinister swamp or a gloomy marshland.

But the reality is far from it – wetlands are teeming with life. From dragonflies to beavers, these habitats are full of species that provide vital services to our local environments.

That's why every year on 2 February, we celebrate World Wetlands Day.

The theme for 2024, 'It’s Time for Wetlands Restoration', highlights the urgent need to prioritize the restoration of these ecosystems around the world.

Here are five things you need to know about these crucial habitats.

1. Wetlands store 20% of organic ecosystem carbon

Despite covering a mere 1% of Earth's surface, wetlands such as peatlands, mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds store 20% of the organic ecosystem carbon on the planet, according to a 2022 paper published in Science.

Wetlands' high carbon sequestration rate and effective sequestration per unit area far exceed those of marine and forest ecosystems, making them incredibly valuable for helping mitigate the climate crisis.

Learn more about these carbon sinks here.

2. They provide trillions of dollars in ecological benefits

The ecological services of wetlands have been valued at more than $47 trillion per year. For example, they provide homes or stopovers for many species of migratory birds.

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They also improve water quality and reduce the impacts of flooding and drought, helping the local environment to thrive.

Find out more about their ecological benefits here.

3. 40% of all species live or breed in wetlands

Wetlands can support very high levels of biodiversity, allowing all kinds of animals and plants to thrive, including microbes, frogs and waterfowl.

The lives of many species are dependent on these habitats. For example, many dragonfly and damselfly species are declining worldwide as the freshwater wetlands where they breed are drained and filled in.

These habitats may not look productive on the surface, yet they are teeming with life.

Discover more about the species that dwell here.

4. Wetlands can help us adapt to the effects of climate change

In a rapidly warming world, one of the best ways we can counter the effects of climate change such as flooding or drought is to protect and restore our wetlands.

They act as sponges that can tackle droughts by storing water and releasing it to maintain river flows long after the rains cease.

Furthermore, wetlands can also reduce the risk of wildfires, as the water-filled soil reduces the intensity of fires and creates natural firebreaks.

The importance of wetlands for our natural world.
Wetlands will be crucial for meeting our climate and biodiversity goals. Image: Wetlands International

5. Since 1970, the planet has lost 35% of its wetlands

These habitats are constantly being destroyed by draining or filling them in, most commonly for farming and development.

Sources of hope do exist, however, with commitments such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands striving to protect and better manage wetland biodiversity.

Find out more about what we can do to protect these vital habitats.

A major global risk

The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report 2024 explores the most severe risks we may face over the next decade.

The top four risks of the next 10 years are all environmental, including extreme weather events, and biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse.

The protection and restoration of habitats such as wetlands are crucial for enabling the world to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

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Related topics:
Future of the EnvironmentEnvironmental DegradationClimate ChangeClimate and Nature
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