Wetlands are transitional ecosystems between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems with plants, animals and soils that are adapted to wet conditions. The water can be still or flowing, fresh, salty or brackish and the area may be permanently or only periodically inundated. Urban wetlands are those which lay within the boundaries of a city or town. Wetlands naturally occur along rivers, deltas and lakes, the same areas where most urbanization occurs.
With urban centers growing and becoming more densely populated, safeguarding these wetland areas is taking on more importance. They provide a safety net for many urban areas, protecting them from damaging water events while supplying area dwellers with a livelihood in many parts of the world.
About 4 billion people live in urban areas today, representing about 50% of the population and this is expected to increase to 66% by 2050 as more people move to cities to look for work. The trend previously was to fill in these wetland areas and build on them. This has led to increased storm water and snow melt runoff causing major flooding events and shoreline erosion. As the value of these wetlands is now becoming more apparent, new wetlands are being created while others are being restored.
The role of Wetlands are to:
- promote biodiversity by providing habitat for aquatic lifeforms
- offer a place for water storage
- mitigate or slow flooding to protect against erosion of river banks and coastal areas.
- facilitate groundwater recharge
- act as a filter to remove pollutants and improve water quality
- have a cooling effect on the surrounding area and moderate strong winds
- act as green spaces to provide aesthetic appeal
- provide recreational and educational opportunities
- offer many economic benefits and opportunities
Urban planners now need to conserve wetlands where possible as well as create wetlands if necessary for urban water management infrastructure. This presents a practical dilemma: How to meet the increasing demand for land in cities while still preserving the wetlands which make the same cities safe, resilient and sustainable.
As the effects of climate change increase, wetlands offer us an important line of defence by averting storm damage, reducing flood damage and the lessening impact of tsunami. Many local initiatives are now being launched to highlight the importance of wetlands and the vital role they fill in modern society. Preservation and protection of these ecosystems is becoming a priority in order to safeguard our way of life and increasing efforts are being made to involve more people in this cause.