Importance of wetlands to the environment

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WETLANDS are areas of land that are flooded with water, either seasonally or permanently
or areas of marsh, fern, peat-land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or
temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including riparian and
adjacent to the wetland according to Environmental Management Act (20:21).
There are two types of wetlands which are Inland wetland which includes marshes, ponds,
lakes, fens, river vleis, floodplains and swamps, then coastal wetland include salt water
marshes, lagoons etc.
Wetlands are importance to the environment as they are purifiers and water filtration-
“kidney of the landscape” wetland improves water quality and hydrology because they
greatly influence the flow and quality of water. As water after being slowed by a wetland,
water moves around plants, allowing the suspended sediment to drop out and settle on the
wetland floor. Nutrients from agriculture activities such as fertilizer application and manure
and also the leaking of septic tanks and municipal sewage that are dissolved in water are
absorbed by plant roots and microorganisms in the soil. Other pollutants stick to soil
particles. The filtration process removes the pollutant load in the water by the time it leaves a
wetland. Wetlands also improves water by intercepting surface run-off and removing or

retaining inorganic nutrients, processing organic waste, and reduces suspended sediments
before they reach open of water body.
The wetlands of the Carboniferous Period generated most of the fossil fuel upon which we
now rely. Wetlands store carbon within live and preserved plant biomass instead of releasing
it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas affecting global climate.
Therefore, wetlands world-wide help to moderate global climatic conditions.
Wetlands prevent floods because of their low topography position relative to uplands e.g.
isolated depressions, floods plains. They are also like natural tubs or sponges storing water
and slowly release it. This process slows the water’s momentum and erosive potential
downstream and on adjacent land which reduces flood heights, and allowing ground water
recharge.
Wetlands protect shoreline due to their position on the landscape, margins of lakes, rivers,
bays and oceans to protect shorelines and stream banks against erosion. Shoreline is the
fringe of land at the edge of a large water body for example oceans, lakes, sea etc. Wetland
plants roots binds soil in place by absorbing energy of waves, and reducing the flow of
stream or river currents. Wetlands control erosion so valuable that some states e.g., Florida
are restoring wetlands in coastal areas to buffer the storm surges from hurricanes and tropical
storms by dissipating wave energy before it impacts roads, houses, and other man-made
structures.
In Zimbabwe the law states that, it is illegal to cultivate or build on wetlands without a
licence from EMA. Wetland utilization is governed by section 113 of the Environmental
Management Act (20:27) as well as section 20 of SI 7 OF 2007 which states that;
(1) No person shall, without a licence issued by the Agency, the proof whereof shall lie
upon him or her, to reclaim or drain, drill or make a tunnel, introduce any exotic
animal or plant species, cultivate, or licence the cultivation of, or destroy any natural
vegetation on, or dig up, or break up, remove or alter in any way the soil or surface of

(a) Wetland
(b) Land within 30 metres of the naturally defined banks of a public stream; or
(c) Land within 30 metres of a high flood level of any body of water conserved in
artificially constructed water storage work on a public stream; or
(d) Bed, banks or course of any river or stream
(2) Subsection (1) shall not apply to the destruction of vegetation or the digging up, breaking
up removal or alteration of the surface in respect of projects specified in the first schedule in
the Act;

(3) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a
fine not exceeding level 10 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both.

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