Resilience: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens (Merriam-Webster)
In my last post, muddy and buggy wetlands were something people wanted to change so the land would be usable for recreation or development. What humans fail to notice, however, is the value of unaltered wetlands in keeping us safe and helping us recover when bad things happen.
Those bad things include flooding, erosion, wildfires, and water pollution. Made larger by climate change, storms more frequently bring flooding rain. When rivers overflow, floodplains absorb the excess water and release it slowly. Without the spongy barrier, the water flows quickly onto roads and into houses, sometimes washing away whatever is in its path. Fast water that remains in the river channel erodes the riverbanks and can undermine nearby infrastructure.
On the coast, brackish marshes reduce the impact of storms by slowing and shrinking the size of ocean waves as they head inland.
When wildfires blaze, wetland areas provide shelter for many animals. Wetlands also slow or stop a fire’s spread. Unfortunately, most residential and commercial development reduced or eliminated the wetlands that would have provided a barrier against wildfires.
Wetlands act as water filters. When water flows through wetland vegetation, sediment is trapped; nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which feed harmful algae blooms, are absorbed; and toxic chemicals are buried or neutralized by sunlight. Clean surface water enters the aquifer to provide safe drinking water for humans.
Wetlands help humans become more resilient in the face of climate change, but we need to help them, too. Existing wetlands should be preserved and altered wetlands should be restored wherever possible to mitigate against flooding, erosion, wildfires, and pollution. Not only will we be safer, but the whole web of wetland life will thrive.