Fast facts: Wetlands

A quick rundown on our planet’s ecosystems

Wetlands in Alappuzha, Kerala, India. Brian Scott, Flickr
15 September 2019
Sandra Cordon
Wetlands in Provence, France
Wetlands in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France. Rainer Voegeli, Flickr

Wetlands are ecosystems consisting of land covered either permanently or seasonally by water. They can include marshes, ponds, edges of lakes and seas, river deltas, and low-lying areas that are prone to flooding.

Okavango Delta, Botswana
Aerial view of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. serena_tang, Flickr

Wetlands make up an estimated 4 to 6 percent of the Earth’s land area and are found in all ecosystems.

Le Bassin Aux Nympheas by Monet
‘Le Bassin Aux Nympheas’, a 1919 painting by Claude Monet, on display at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Ron Cogswell, Flickr

Some wetlands, including swamps and marshes, are among the planet’s most productive ecosystems. As they provide habitats for both terrestrial and aquatic species, they often have higher biodiversity than do other ecosystems. They also serve as important carbon and nutrient sinks.

Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia
Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, located in Queensland, Australia. Michael Dawes, Flickr

Wetlands also provide considerable benefits to humans. Most notably, they support fisheries, agriculture and timber production, provide water supply, create opportunities for recreation and tourism, and can absorb large amounts of water during flooding. Even in cities, where they were once drained to make way for buildings and urban infrastructure, wetlands are making a comeback.

San Francisco Bay tidal marsh, California
A tidal marsh in San Francisco Bay, California, U.S. Todd Lappin, Flickr

There are five major natural wetland types:

  • marine (coastal wetlands including coastal lagoons, rocky shores, and coral reefs)
  • estuarine (deltas, tidal marshes, and mangrove swamps)
  • lacustrine (wetlands associated with lakes)
  • riverine (wetlands along rivers and streams)
  • palustrine (marshes, swamps and bogs).

Read the rest of our ‘fast facts’ series on ecosystems below.

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