Often seen as a soggy nuisance, here's why marshes are actually essential

Marshes aren't just breeding grounds for mosquitos, they are essential to the planet for a number of reasons.

Why marshes are essential to the planet
March 7, 2018

Marshes were Perceived as Nuisances

For the longest time, people thought marshes were wasted space; a wet, soggy, breeding ground for mosquitoes and disease. Because of that, people often drained the marsh and filled them in for other uses. We now know that was not a good idea.

But first, a definition. Marshes and swamps are part of a broader ecosystem the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines as a wetland. Wetlands include swamps and marshes along with bogs, floodplains, riverbanks and even rice paddies.

The agency says wetlands also include anywhere that saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil development and the types of plants and animals communities there. As you might imagine, with that definition, wetlands are widespread and found on every continent expect Antarctica. And if all of the world’s wetlands were put together, they would take up an area one-third larger than the United States.

Marshes Are Vital Ecosystems

Wetlands, in whatever form, are vital to the health of the planet. The EPA says wetlands contain a disproportionately high number of plant and animals species compared to other ecosystems.

In addition, wetlands provide a large number of ecological services, including removing pollution from runoff, trapping floodwaters, protecting coastlines, recharging groundwater supplies and providing fish and wildlife habitat.

Marshes Under Pressure from Development

The trouble is that wetlands are pretty vulnerable as development pressures grow around the world. The group Wetlands International, a global nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring wetlands around the world, says the wetlands are on the “frontline” of those pressures. The group also says wetlands are especially vulnerable to over-exploitation because of their abundance of fish, vegetation and water.

If wetlands are still seen as unproductive areas with a lot of fish, vegetation and water, some think that filling in at least a portion of the area isn’t a problem. But with information from organizations like the EPA and Wetlands International, we have a deeper understanding of the importance of marshes. They're not a nuisance, they're essential.

—Frank Graff 

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci Tech Now North Carolina, a weekly science series that airs Tuesdays on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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