Wetlands: Freshwater “Species” of the Week

In case you weren’t aware, every February 2 is not just Groundhog Day. It is also World Wetlands Day.

A caiman peers out from a pond in the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, in Brazil. Photo: Brian Clark Howard


From the official website of World Wetlands Day:

This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Each year since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat has provided materials so that government agencies, non-governmental organizations, conservation organizations, and groups of citizens can help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.

To mark the occasion, more than 120 countries are hosting various events, “from lectures and seminars, nature walks, children’s art contests, sampan races, and community clean-up days, to radio and television interviews and letters to newspapers, to the launch of new wetland policies, new Ramsar sites, and new programmes at the national level.”freshwater species of the week

Wetlands Need Love

Wetlands provide a lot of critical “ecosystem functions,” such as filtering and storing water, mitigating storm impacts, and trapping carbon. They are also critical habitat for a wide range of plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else. Wetlands host many freshwater species (the theme of this series), some of which also likely hold promise for medicines and other useful products.

Unfortunately, wetlands are also under siege across the world. In the U.S., people waged a literal war against them, draining them by the thousands to make way for development and to decrease the “swamp gas” that was long thought to cause disease.

Now, we know mosquitoes can spread disease, and they do breed in many wetlands, but wholesale destruction of these important habitats is not a sound ecological solution. Wetlands provide too many other benefits, and disease is often better approached by a combination of methods, including targeted spraying, medication, prevention, and awareness.

Check out our gallery of aquatic habitats>

Check out our gallery of aquatic species>

And if you think you know your groundhogs, try your hand at this quiz I wrote a few years ago.

Finally, if you were a fan of the “Wetlands” alternative rock club in New York City, it may live on in nearby Port Chester, New York, as Wetland’s former owner, Peter Shapiro, has just bought a new space for $11.5 million.

Buff-necked ibis in Pantanal in Brazil
A buff-necked ibis strolls in the Pantanal. Photo: Brian Clark Howard


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science, TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.