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Wetlands: a natural safeguard against disasters

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including growing season. Wetlands are a natural buffer against disasters. Along the coastline, wetlands act as a natural protective buffer. Inland, wetlands act as a natural sponge, absorbing and storing excess rainfall and reducing flooding. During the dry season, they release the stored water, delaying the onset of droughts and reducing water shortages.

When it is well managed, wetlands can make communities flexible enough to prepare for, cope and bounce back from disasters even stronger than before:

Preparing for disaster

To minimize impact ahead of time, we can designate flood- and storm-prone areas as protected wetlands to strengthen nature’s own buffer.

Coping

When a tremendous event hits, healthy wetlands can absorb some of the shock, cushioning the damage in local communities. In Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka where offshore coral reefs are protected through a marine park, the damage from the 2004 tsunami extended just 50m inland.

Bouncing back

Wetlands can also speed up the recovery and help to “build back better” after a disaster, acting as natural water filters and nutrient restorers.

Healthy wetlands that help us cope with extreme weather events

Mangroves

These resilient trees, which take root in the mud below shallow water, provide shelter from predators for the young of many reef fish species, replenishing fisheries and supporting the livelihoods of those who depend on them. They dissipate the force of tropical storms and reduce damage to coastal communities. And perhaps most important, mangroves sequester up to 50 times more carbon than other ecosystems, playing a key role in efforts to mitigate climate change.

Rivers and Flood Plains

Floodplains are an essential part of both healthy river systems and healthy communities. If these are left intact- with their related inland lakes and swamps - they can act as a giant reservoir. During sudden floods, they can spread and store flood water over a wide area, reducing damage downstream.

Inland Delta

When rivers flow into a wide, flat inland lake without draining into the ocean, an inland delta is formed. These seasonal flows are a strong natural safeguard against drought.

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs, often called "rainforests of the sea", form some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and are by far our richest marine habitat. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, colonies of tiny animals found in marine waters. Home to a quarter of all marine species, and providers of eco-tourism livelihoods, coral reefs also act as offshore wave barriers.

Peatlands

Peat is a heterogeneous mixture of more or less decomposed plant material that has accumulated in a water-saturated environment and in the absence of oxygen. Peat is sedentarily accumulated material consisting of at least 30% (dry mass) of dead organic material. Key fact: peatlands store more than twice as much carbon as all of the world’s forests combined, so they play an important role in mitigating some effects of climate change.

Preserving Wetlands for the future

Wetlands are an integral part of Sri Lanka’s unique ecological and biological diversity, and are vital habitats for a large variety of fauna and flora. However, many wetland ecosystems in Sri Lanka are being indiscriminately exploited at an alarming rate. In order to save our wetlands we as a proud nation of natural habitat can step forward to bring a better future our next generation by;

  • Participate in programs that help protect and restore wetlands.
  • Report illegal activity such as filling, clearing, or dumping in wetlands to government authorities.
  • Pick up all litter and dispose in appropriate trash containers. Keep surface areas that wash into storm drains clean of pet feces, toxic chemicals, fertilizers, and motor oil, which eventually reach and impair our wetlands.
  • Plant only native species of trees, shrubs, and flowers to preserve the ecological balance of local wetlands.
  • Avoid wetlands if you are expanding your home.
  • Use paper and recycled products made from unbleached paper. Bleached paper contains toxic chemicals that can contaminate water.
  • Use non-toxic products for household cleaning, lawn and garden care. Never spray lawn or garden chemicals on a windy or rainy day, as they will wash into the waterways.
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle household items and waste.

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