What is a wetland? Wetlands have many names such as swamps, marshes, bogs, sedge meadows, wet prairies, fens, and seeps. No matter their name, they share these three characteristics: wetland hydrology, hydrophytic vegetation, and hydric soils.
But have you ever heard of wetlands called “Nature’s Sponges”, “Nature’s Kidneys”, “Biological Supermarkets”, or “Nature’s Gas Stations?” Wetlands provide many ecosystem services. Wetlands act like sponges because their massive organic matter can absorb and store water for a long time. This ability to store water helps to recharge groundwater and serve to help reduce damages caused by flooding. Wetlands unique soils have a high cation exchange capacity which allow wetlands to remove pollutants and nutrients from the water as it flows through. Wetlands can support a diversity of organisms thanks to the variety of food resources they provide for the animals who use wetlands part or all their life.
My favorite ecosystem service wetlands provide are “Nature’s Gas Stations.” Today when you visit a QuikTrip you can fill up your vehicle with fuel, go inside get a snack (some stores you can get lunch or dinner) and purchase a refreshing beverage to quench your thirst. Migrating birds around the world use wetlands as their fueling stations. Some birds such as the Sandhill Cranes can be observed resting and feeding along rivers and wetlands throughout the Great Plains and Pacific Northwest. Some Sandhill Cranes migrate over 2100 miles travelling about 250 to 350 miles per day. This means they need several “gas stations” along their migration path to satisfy their hunger and thirst needs.
Our wetlands around the world are in trouble. Wetlands are drained and filled for either agricultural needs or urban sprawl. In Gwinnett County, Georgia, several wetlands are now covered with parking lots and shopping centers. Although more than half of U.S. wetlands have been destroyed or degraded there is still hope. Wetland restoration projects are happening everywhere. Organizations and companies are also creating artificial wetlands because of the ecosystem services they provide.
How can you help? Volunteer to help with a wetland restoration project. You can purchase a Federal Duck Stamp from your local post office to help support wetland acquisition. And you can educate others about the value of wetlands.