If I told you one-eighth of the world’s inhabitants depend on wetlands for their livelihood you would probably say I’m crazy. They’re just swamps, right? Yes they are swamps, and yet, the Chesapeake Bay, the Louisiana Bayou, the Okefenokee Swamp, and the East Kolkata wetlands, to name a few, are not only some of the most hardworking environmental resources around with their fishing, crabbing, birding, aquaculture, ecotourism, and wastewater treatment abilities, but these ancient, massive primigenial havens of swampy, boggy, marshy, peaty, watery goodness are intrinsically cash cows.
The Chesapeake Bay alone is estimated to bring in approximately $33 billion a year across the spectrums of fishing, tourism, real estate and recreation, among others things, across six states: Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia and all of D.C.
Louisiana’s commercial fisheries supply 25-35% of the United States’ total catch, while their wetlands protect the coastal zones along the Gulf where Louisiana’s oil and natural gas industries live, adding approximately $73 billion to Louisiana’s GDP in 2020 and responsible for one out of every nine jobs in the state. However you feel about oil and gas drilling, fossil fuel energy is a resource America still needs while we make the conversion to renewables and yet another reason to maintain wetlands that would be lost to the winds and tides over time without targeted coastal restoration projects.
In 2002, the East Kolkata Wetlands obtained wetlands of international importance status under the Ramsar convention where they had been managing wastewater treatment as well as providing a boost to the aquaculture and agriculture industries for a city of 4.5 million people -by providing, among other things, livelihoods along with cheap food and vegetables for the indigenous population – again, showing people the money.
But, and it’s a big but, these coastal and inland systems are under extreme pressure from both pollution and development, meaning 140,000 species of fish, about 55% of the fish population, are also at risk. Consider the problem of a failure of maintenance by the government in East Kolkata with this comment from wetland researcher, Dhruba Das Gupta:
This year is the completion of two decades of Ramsar status for the East Kolkata Wetlands – and the story of these wetlands today is grim – with an acute capital crisis, a recalcitrant state and looming land sharks who are fooling the people regarding a liveable abode that just cannot materialise.
Watch Dhruba’s 13-minute podcast for a primer on the East Kolkata wetlands; you’ll be amazed at what they do. The East Kolkata wetlands are a prime, and arguably best example of why wetland systems have tremendous importance on our planet, filtering 750 million liters of wastewater per day — what would cost $25 billion a year to do so mechanically — and also why we need to devote more time and money to the maintenance and preservation of these resources before they disappear.
The statistics as to why wetlands are important go on and on, but if we want wetlands to do the same, we need to act. Get involved. Let your local decision-makers know how you feel about protecting one of the world’s most precious natural resources. Nudge your environmental regulators to send more money toward these natural systems. Volunteer the next time your local conservancy organizes a river cleanup or announces a project. Read books on wetlands and why they are important to humankind’s evolution. Future generations will be grateful for your efforts.
Pam Lazos is an environmental lawyer, author, and VP of Communications for GWA. If you want to learn more about wetlands, read her watery debut novel, Oil and Water, about oils spills, green technology, and the importance of wetlands.