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Going Worldwide with Wetlands

Written on: May 19th, 2023 in Natural ResourcesOutreachWetland Research

By Olivia Allread, DNREC’s Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program

Celebrate good times, come on! Yes, it’s the holiday we’ve all been waiting for – American Wetlands Month. This May marks the 32nd anniversary of recognizing the vital importance and need of wetland habitats across the United States. Now our program is out here everyday living and loving wetlands, but of course we greatly appreciate a designated celebration for the ecological, economic, and social health benefits that wetlands provide. To take it a step further this month, we wanted to educate folks (and even ourselves) about the challenges wetlands are facing as a natural resource across the world. Let’s take a stroll through some global wetland newsmakers.


Serious debate surrounds the Murray River, Australia’s second-longest river, as its floodplains may become one of the first attempts to engineer wetlands for water offsets in the world. Victoria, Australia has immense amounts of forested area, some of which are inhabited by First Nations people, that rely on regular flooding for survival. The Murray-Darling basin along the river has around 30,000 wetland pockets that are drying out due to climate change and the demand for irrigation by farmers. To address the problem and keep the wetlands alive with less water, the Victorian government has turned to floodplain infrastructure with nine major wetland engineering projects which have a $214 million USD price tag. Essentially the projects would artificially enable flooding in wetlands and surrounding areas, including ones of ecological and cultural significance, and provide water for farmers. The projects will go through an environmental assessment process this year, and the government is pushing its engineering initiatives through the Victorian Murray Floodplains Restoration Project. Citizens, scientists, and policymakers of Victoria have vocalized major concerns about the engineering projects, siding against the governments problem-solving effort.

The nine floodplain engineering projects planned for Victoria (Photo Credit: Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project)


With almost 35% of Colombia’s land area covered by the Amazon rainforest, many citizens of the country are seeing the impacts of deforestation and exploitation of natural resources. In southern Colombia, throughout the wetland area of Lake Tarapoto, women of Indigenous communities are combating these changes through scientific research and education. Lake Tarapoto’s wetlands not only provide habitat for critical plants and animals, but support livelihoods for 22 Indigenous communities that heavily rely on aquatic resources such as fish and boat transportation. These women have stepped up to the plate to monitor, manage, and educate locals on the importance of wetland restoration, as well as increase awareness on the impacts from overfishing. The incredible work they have done over the years has caught the eye of environmental organizations like Amazonía Verde and Conservation International. Ichthyology (the study of fish), restoration, species research, community agreements – these women are doing it all for the wetlands and waterways.

Bird species swimming in Lake Tarapoto wetlands (Photo Credit: Conservation International Colombia)


In the Sahara of northern Nigeria lies the remnants of the Hadejia-Nguru wetland which once supported the livelihood of two million people and critically important habitats for migrating water birds. Big changes occurred in the 1990’s when the Nigerian government constructed two dams that together captured 80% of the water that flowed into the wetland areas. What has happened in the last 30 years is an oasis gone missing; most all the wetlands have dried out and majority of the population has left the area. The very little remaining wetlands are currently major centers of community conflict between farmers and herders as the desert invades their space to survive in poverty. As the uncertainty remains for the humans and biodiversity alike in this area, the one thing that is for certain is that issues need to be addressed for the first Ramsar site designated in Nigeria.


Now this is a different take on a wetland species we in Delaware hold near and dear to our hearts. China is experiencing an invasion of Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and has even launched a nation wide effort to control the species by 2025. Though the plant has been around in China since 1979, in the past few years it has taken on a life of its own spreading across tidal mudflats and increasing concerns for the government about the impacts on shipping channels and aquatic farms. Even more at risk are the birds migrating along the East Asian–Australasian Flyway, one of the most critical flyways in the world for coastal water birds. This invasive to the country has spread to many provinces where local control is simple not enough, and officials are suggesting management plans be pushed up through the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.

Small scale project to remove Spartina alterniflora in Qingdao (Photo Credit: Zuma Press/Alamy).


This video speaks for itself, but it is too impactful not to share. The country of Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands including small coastal countries such as Java, Sulawesi, and Sumatra, while also being the fourth most populated country in the world.  What is even more astonishing is that this country is losing hundreds and thousands of hectares of land (1,000 hectares = 2,400 acres) in the last two decades due to erosion and sea level rise, with majority of impacts effecting large areas of mangrove wetlands. According to the Center for International Forestry Research, Indonesia is home to 3 million hectares (7,400,000 acres) of mangroves equating to 23% of the worlds mangrove area. With wetland restoration and habitat management a focus but a slow-moving train, the communities and wetlands throughout these island nations are at serious threat,

Current projects, critical issues, policy updates, success stories – going worldwide with wetlands can certainly enlighten the most novice of nature fans. As we go through the next half of American Wetlands Month, our program challenges you to keep up the reading; see what you can learn or share about wetlands near and far. Like the old adage says, knowledge is power.

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