Water And Oceanography

Preserving Wetlands a Natural Security Issue



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The preservation of the world's wetlands can be described as a "natural" security issue because they have a significant role to play in maintaining the environment in a fit state to support the continuance of human life as we know it.

Three of the most significant environmental problems facing our planet are climate change, loss of biodiversity and the pollution of our waterways and lakes. The retention and protection of our wetlands is a vital component in combating all three of these problems.

Climate change is occurring due to the rising average temperature of the world as a whole, even though some regions may experience colder temperatures, commonly known as global warming. The main reason for global warming is an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These gases reflect light and heat that is radiating off the Earth's surface back again. Although by no means the most efficient of these reflecting gases, carbon dioxide is by far the most important on a volume basis. When plants photosynthesize they convert the Sun's energy into chemical bonds in carbohydrates, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen molecules as a by-product. The amount a particular ecosystem type does this is called its productivity. Wetland ecosystems are the second most productive terrestrial ecosystem, only exceeded by tropical rain-forests. To reduce the impacts of climate change, we need to reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and wetlands are the most efficient method for doing this outside of the tropics.

The loss of biodiversity is a concern for many reasons, not the least of which is the possible loss of miracle drugs or new food crops. Pharmaceutical companies don't have scientists bio-prospecting in the wilder, less disturbed regions of the world for no reason. Finding medical uses for a naturally produced molecule is approximately 1000 times more likely than for a randomly generated artificial molecule. During the Roman Empire Europe lost many of its larger animals to extinction as they were rounded up to feature in the "games" held to amuse the citizens in towns across the whole empire. Today we generally initiate campaigns and programs to try and save larger species facing extinction, but the smaller species, of insect, microbe and plant, most of which haven't even been named yet, are becoming extinct at a rate that is 100 times greater than normal. Our wetlands are a bounty of diversity, and because they are normally separated by dry land, each wetland area is likely to have species and sub-species endemic to itself, that exist nowhere else. Rice, the primary diet of a large proportion of the world's human population, is grown in waterlogged paddies because it is a wetland plant. What else might be awaiting our discovery in the wetlands of the world?

Contamination of the fresh water in our streams, rivers and lakes is an increasing concern worldwide. Every one of us requires a daily intake of fresh water to maintain our health. Run off from road surfaces and agricultural land as well as deliberate discharges increases the pollution level in our natural waterways making it ever more costly to filter the water before it can be supplied to our faucets. Not to mention the impact on our wildlife and the scenic beauty. Wetlands are nature's way of filtering water, they are so efficient at doing so that artificial wetlands are being created in some parts of the world purely for water purification purposes. But even when fully established they are only 80 percent as effective as their natural counterparts.

These are just three of the excellent reasons to protect our wetlands, surely any one of them alone should be sufficient reason to warrant our doing so!

Sources:

Although written in the main from my own understanding and memory, my knowledge ultimately came from the lectures of the following people at the Mt. Albert campus of Unitec NZ Ltd. I also used the notes to jog my memory a few times while writing this article.

Chambers, Steve. (2007) Unpublished Principles of Biotechnology lecture notes.
Galbraith, Mel. (2005) Unpublished Ecological Principles lecture notes.
Galbraith, Mel. (2006) Unpublished Biodiversity: Theory & Practise lecture notes.
Galbraith, Mel. (2007) Unpublished Freshwater Systems lecture notes.
Harman, Jane. (2005) Unpublished Biological Principles lecture notes.
Jones, Graham. (2007) Unpublished Coastal & Marine Systems lecture notes.
Large, Mark. (2005) Unpublished Biological Principles lecture notes.
Large, Mark. (2007) Unpublished Principles of Biotechnology lecture notes.
Perrott, John. (2007) Unpublished Terrestrial Systems lecture notes.

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