Wetlands are essential to sustaining the rich biodiversity of Earth. From bogs, lakes, rivers and marshes to artificial sites like rice paddies and reservoirs, these ecosystems are home to countless species of plants and animals. More than 2,000 wetlands span across 170 countries worldwide.
Held every year on February 2 since 1977, World Wetlands Day commemorates the signing of the Ramsar Convention in Iran. This treaty focuses on “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.”
What are wetlands and why are they important? To be classified as a wetland, an area must have water on the ground’s surface or in the root zone for at least a portion of the year. The amount of water contained there may fluctuate seasonally, and a site can still be a wetland even if it doesn’t appear to be “wet.” These areas are natural regulators of the climate and water cycle and aid in controlling floods and droughts. They generate resources and supply water to populations in their area of influence, both for direct human consumption and agricultural use.
Like many of the world’s ecosystems, wetlands are disappearing as human populations grow and build on the land. It’s a local problem, too—Florida alone has lost millions of acres of wetlands since the late 18th century. Today, people are realizing how important these ecosystems are and many organizations are working to restore, maintain and protect wetlands for future generations.
The Zoo is home to roughly 22 acres of natural wetlands restored with the help of St. Johns River Water Management District. There are strict regulations to keep this area in its natural state and we maintain it by removing invasive plants and trimming overgrowth. Our wetlands are home to many species of wildlife including fish, turtles, eagles, cranes, otters and even the occasional alligator. Having this undeveloped area as part of the Zoo is something unique we take pride in, helping connect our visitors with the wonder and magic of natural Florida.
There are plenty of ways you can help preserve wetlands. The simplest way to start helping is to reduce, reuse and recycle your trash. Install rain barrels to limit runoff and keep your pet waste, trash, chemicals and fertilizer out of the water systems. When you decide to plant trees, shrubs and flowers, choose native species and, if you have waterfront property, opt for a living shoreline in place of a seawall. Most importantly, get out there and experience wetlands for yourself! These beautiful landscapes are rich in history, nature, wildlife and adventure.