This article appeared in the Great Bend Tribune on Sunday, January 27th as part of the monthly KWEC column, The Wetland Explorer.
What will you be doing on February 2nd? Spending a quiet Saturday at home? Taking the family out for some winter fun? How about taking a moment to celebrate all the amazing things wetlands do for our environment?
February 2nd is World Wetlands Day! It marks the 1971 signing of the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of the world’s wetlands. One hundred and sixty-three countries have signed the Ramsar Convention treaty, from Albania to Zambia. Both Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge have been designated Wetlands of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention.
Wetlands are more than just swampy places that take up valuable acreage; they are an important natural resource! A wetland is nature’s water filter. Many organisms that live in wetlands actually remove the contaminants that humans put into water. Floating plants such as water hyacinth and duckweed remove iron and copper, while plants like cattail remove other heavy metals. Filter feeding animals like oysters can remove nutrients, sediment, and chemical contaminants from more than 53 gallons of water each day. Wetlands remove sediment from water through the simple action of slowing the rate of water flow, allowing sediment to settle out.
In addition to cleaning our water, wetlands help to regulate water flow in general. A healthy wetlands system allows water to soak into the ground, rather than flowing quickly downstream. When water is allowed to soak in, it recharges the aquifers that supply 95% of the world’s drinking water. Natural floodplains lessen the severity of floodwaters by spreading out the water. When humans remove floodplains, as we have in many river basins, floods are deeper, faster, and more severe.
Finally, wetlands are home to hundreds of thousands of species of plants and animals. Wetlands provide vital habitat to many migratory species in particular. It’s estimated that up to 45% of the migratory shorebirds in North America spend time at Cheyenne Bottoms, that’s nearly 1 million birds each year! That’s just the shorebirds; think of the ducks, geese, turtles, fish, and hundreds of other critters.
So this year, on February 2nd, take some time and celebrate everything wetlands do for you! Here at the KWEC, we’ll be announcing the winners of our 2013 World Wetlands Day coloring contest for Barton County 2nd Graders during our Winter Family Program – Wild About Wetlands! Give us a call at 1-877-243-9268 if you’d like to bring your family to the program. The 2nd graders of Barton County have done a great job with their coloring sheets, and have learned more about the importance of wetlands. Look for the 2nd graders’ artwork at several Great Bend businesses starting February 2nd.