A Second Chance to Protect Wetlands


Wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world.

Wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world. A new study, published in Nature, has found that the loss of wetland areas around the globe since 1700 has likely been overestimated. This is good news overall, however, the global picture hides significant variations, with several regions and distinct wetland types under significant levels of pressure. For instance, temperate river floodplains have been highly impacted while remote boreal-arctic peatlands remain comparatively unharmed. While wetland conversion and degradation has slowed globally, it continues apace in some regions, such as Indonesia, where large swaths of land are being cleared for oil palm plantations and other agricultural uses. This new global perspective on wetland loss can help prioritize conservation and restoration actions.

Now understood to be vital sources of water purification, groundwater recharge, and carbon storage, wetlands were historically seen as unproductive areas teeming with disease-bearing insects and good only for draining to grow crops or harvest peat for fuel or fertilizer. Over time, unrelenting drainage for conversion to farmland and urban areas along with alteration caused by fires and groundwater extraction have made wetlands among the world’s most threatened ecosystems.

Until now, a lack of historical data has hindered efforts to understand the full global impact of wetland loss, forcing scientists to make estimates based on incomplete collections of regional data. In a first of its kind historical reconstruction, the team, bringing together researchers from Stanford, Cornell, and McGill universities, combed through thousands of records of wetland drainage and land-use changes in 154 countries, mapping the distribution of drained and converted wetlands onto maps of present-day wetlands to get a picture of what the original wetland areas might have looked like in 1700.

Read more at: McGill University

The Orshinski Mokh peatland in Tver Province of the Russian Federation is a raised bog on the Volga River floodplain. A quarter of the peatland was drained for peat extraction between 1930-1990 primarily for fuel for a power station and a large settlement. Nowadays, small enterprises are digging peat for horticultural use and fuel. Between 2012-2019, almost 12,000 ha of this peatland was restored. Monitoring efforts were suspended in 2022 by the start of the war in Ukraine. (Photo Credit: Kirill Shakhmatov)