Wetlands provide numerous environmental benefits to human well-being. These range from providing safe water and protection from storm damage to nutrient removal and biological remediation of pollutants. Furthermore, wetlands serve as important habitats for species listed as threatened or endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Wetlands are an important source of fresh water for human use and play an essential role in protecting surface waters from pollution by removing excess nutrients (known as eutrophication) and other toxic substances that have been flushed into the ocean or river from land-based sources. Some of these chemicals get trapped and buried in sediment, while others are converted to less hazardous forms by the microbial communities found within wetlands.
Wetland plants remove nitrogen, phosphorus, and other waste products from surface waters in order to keep these pollutants away from natural ecosystems and humans living nearby. Acting like “nature’s kidneys,” these wetlands slow the flow of surface waters while allowing dissolved and suspended solids to settle at the bottom where they can be reabsorbed by soil. The reclaimed groundwater recharges the surrounding aquifer while improving water quality downstream due to vegetation filtering sediments and recycling nutrients.
Habitat for Threatened and Endangered Species
Wetlands provide habitat to a diverse array of plants, animals, and organisms not commonly found elsewhere. They also serve as a critical refuge for some of the world’s most endangered species such as whooping cranes, American crocodiles, and dwarf lake iris.
Specialized Plant Habitat
Wetland vegetation offers a diverse range of specialized habitats that are essential to the survival of many plants, fungi, and bacteria. These organisms produce food, fiber, and other useful items used by wetland-associated animals for food or fiber production.
Toxic Chemical Remediation
Wetlands trap and bury hazardous chemicals that have leaked into surface water or been dumped in soil. Some of these pollutants are converted to less hazardous forms by soil and other wetlands, while others may be released back into the aquatic environment when disturbed.
Medical and Other Products
Wetland animals, fungi, bacteria, and lower plants (algae) provide a wealth of products that can be utilized for pharmaceutical or other medicinal uses. Many of these species have long been part of traditional knowledge systems and medical practices around the world.
Coastal Storm Damage Control
Wetlands can reduce coastal flooding, erosion, and property damage caused by major storms. Salt marshes and mangrove forests along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts have been shown to mitigate hurricane effects by slowing down storm flow, storing water during the event than releasing it gradually over time. This helps buffer coastal communities against major impacts.
Streambank Stabilization and Erosion Control
Wetland plants bind soil on riparian wetlands, stabilizing the bank while preventing erosion in the downstream environment. This helps prevent landslides that could result in serious injury or death.