Saving the World’s Wetlands

    10 November, 2019

    A team of farmers, university researchers and environmentalists is busy at work in the wetlands of eastern England. They are digging into the area's barley and wheat fields. They are looking for wet earth that could hide lost ponds underneath.

    The group of diggers takes just a few hours to bring one dying pond back to life. It is near Hindolveston, a thousand-year-old village close to the North Sea.

    "As soon as they [buried ponds] get water and light, they just spring to life," says Nick Anema, a farmer in nearby Dereham. He has brought seven ponds on his property back to life.

    "You've got frogs and toads and newts, all the insects like mayflies, dragonflies, damselflies. ... You can't really beat a pond," he said.

    But the battle for the wetlands is a struggle. While efforts to halt losses are continuing, wetlands around the world are still being filled in and covered up.

    Dorothy Wakeling of the conservation group Harare Wetlands Trust says people are disturbing wetlands which are supposed to be gradually releasing water into the city's water bodies.
    Dorothy Wakeling of the conservation group Harare Wetlands Trust says people are disturbing wetlands which are supposed to be gradually releasing water into the city's water bodies.

    Over the past three centuries, almost 90% of the world's wetlands have disappeared. This information comes from the Ramsar Convention, an organization formed around a 1971 treaty to protect wetlands.

    The loss rate has increased since the 1970s, with wetlands now disappearing three times faster than the world's forests, the group says.

    The results of such losses can be huge, notes Ramsar.

    Some 5,000 wetland-dependent animal species could die off.

    Wetland loss can also affect human beings. Wetlands act as natural storage areas for water. Losing those areas could lead to more severe flooding in many parts of the world. And the act of removing water from wetlands can release huge amounts of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to climate change.

    Royal Gardner is director of the Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy at Stetson University in the United States.

    "We now know the value of wetlands, and we know with increasing precision how many wetlands we're losing. The next step is for the governments to act," he told The Associated Press.

    Wetlands and farmers

    A few hours of heavy rain in North Dakota are all it takes to change the dry earth of the U.S. prairie into thousands upon thousands of small wetlands.

    But to North Dakota farmers, these wetlands can be an enemy. The muddy areas slow down tractors and other farm equipment. They can also limit crop production.

    Barton Schott, a farmer, emptied several wetlands this summer to improve the fields he plans to pass on to one of his sons.

    Schott pointed at fields with what he called "nuisance wetlands" as he drove his truck down a dirt road.

    "We have to make bushels (of corn) for you guys. I just want to make the land better," he says.

    Human-made wetlands

    Human-made wetlands, however, are not decreasing in number. Rice paddies, water reservoirs and agricultural stock ponds have all increased since the 1970s, Ramsar says.

    Yet scientists are concerned that there are important differences between natural wetlands and those created by people.

    "People brag about the fact that there's been no net loss [of wetlands]. But what they've done is destroy natural wetlands and create artificial ones," says Stuart Pimm, a Duke University professor. "It makes it look like you're doing no harm when the reality is very different."

    Nick Anema, the farmer from the beginning of this report, describes how his idea of farming differs from his father's. His father thought of the natural world as an obstacle, or barrier, to overcome.

    For Anema, farming and safeguarding the land share an important link.

    People had filled in a pond on Anema's farm about 150 years ago.

    After being dug out, seeds from long-buried water plants came back to life.

    I'm John Russell.

    I'm Anne Ball.

    Matthew Brown and James Brooks reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    pond – n. a small body of water

    species – n. a group of living organisms made up of similar individuals

    contributor – n. a person or thing that helps cause something else to happen

    precision – n. the quality of being exacting

    prairie – n. a large open area of grassland

    nuisance – n. a person, thing, or situation that causes trouble or problems — usually singular

    bushel – n. a measurement for an amount of fruit and grain that is equal to about 35.2 liters in the United States and about 36.4 liters in Britain

    reservoirn. a large lake used to supply water

    brag – v. to talk highly about oneself or one's family

    net – n. an amount that is left over after all costs have been taken away

    We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.