A wetland is an area flooded or saturated with water, impacting the habitat and the plant and animal communities found there. These ecosystems appear where the water table is at or near to the surface. Wetlands can be both natural or man-made, permanent or seasonal, with fresh, brackish, or salt water. They can be found on the coastline, as salt marshes, mangroves, estuaries and lagoons, and further inland, as lakes, rivers, floodplains, and swamps.
Globally, wetlands are under severe threat, being lost at three times the rate of forests, making them the most threatened ecosystem on Earth. Over 80% of all wetlands have been lost since the 1700s, with 35% lost since 1970. In Barbados, many wetlands were drained to make way for agriculture and urbanization. The last remaining coastal wetlands include Graeme Hall Swamp, Long Pond, Green Pond and Chancery Lane, with small, isolated wetlands scattered along the south and west coasts. These remnant wetlands are further threatened by water pollution, dumping, land clearance, and invasive species.
These trends are concerning because of the enormous value of wetlands. Wetlands store more carbon than forests, indeed, mangroves sequester carbon up to 55 times faster than tropical rain forests. With 60% of humanity living and working in coastal areas, coastal wetlands such as saltmarshes, mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs play an important role in shielding coastal communities from extreme weather. Inland, an acre of wetland can absorb up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater, protecting lives and livelihoods from flood damage. People working in coastal areas further depend on wetlands as they support fisheries, aquaculture, and ecotourism. Tourists visiting wetlands are driven not only by these picturesque landscapes, but also by the wealth of plant and animal biodiversity found there. Around 40% of the world’s species live or breed in wetlands. Even man-made wetlands, such as fishponds and rice paddies, can provide important habitats for wildlife.
In Barbados, the Long Pond area in St. Andrew is a well-known source of sea grapes (Coccoloba uvifera), fat porks (Chrysobalanus icaco), and blue land crabs (Cardisoma guanhumi) – locally known as swampies. These are all local delicacies which support surrounding communities by providing food and foraged products for sale. The ecosystem is a valuable asset to Barbados and must be protected and managed sustainably so the future can also enjoy its benefits.