Wetlands are lands that are soaked by lakes, rivers, oceans, or underground springs. Some wetlands stay soggy all day, seasonally, all year, or dry out. Wetlands are challenging to navigate and are saturated, slippery, swampy areas. Yet they have spiritual and cultural connections among local inhabitants. They protect our communities by acting as natural sponges, storing and slowly releasing floodwaters. A single acre of wetland, saturated to one foot, retains 330,000 gallons of water – enough to flood thirteen average-sized homes thigh-deep. Wetlands absorb excess seasonal water until it gradually drains away, preventing erosion and flooding. In drier periods, wetlands hold precious water after open water has disappeared. They act as natural filtering systems, trapping silt, waste, and pollutants, absorbing nutrients from sedimented areas, cycling them through the food web, and cleansing the waters’ nutrient concentrations of toxic levels. Wetlands provide habitat to many plants, animals, and insects. Through photosynthesis, plants return oxygen to the environment and provide food to other organisms.
Activity 1 – Types of Wetlands
Wetlands come in many types and sizes. They can be inland, coastal, fresh, or saltwater and are found on all continents except Antarctica. They appear as inland lakes, coastal wetlands, river deltas, grass ponds, bush/tree swamps, blanket fens, wet meadows, prairie pots, savannahs, marshes, and bogs, fens, swamps, sloughs, and pools. Wetlands of all types are essential to the freshwater resources of our earth. They create alluvial soils and collect and filter rainwater, providing crucial clean water and wetness to the land, plants, animals, insects, and humans. In addition, they store carbon and filter toxins out of the water providing water in times of drought, preventing erosion, protecting coastlines from waves and wind, and sequestering carbon.
Research and draw or photograph three different types of wetlands and label them.
Activity 2 – Model a Wetland
Take a metal or glass cooking pan and find some felt, sponge sheet, and/or carpet piece, some modeling clay, and a cup or two of dirt and pebbles. Put the carpet at the bottom, the sponge sheet net, then the clay; sprinkle the dirt and rocks over the clay. Using a stream of water from your faucet, start to trickle water down your stream from the top of the clay hill. Watch water wander its way onto the sponge and carpet, collecting at the bottom. Add animals and birds, and insects that might populate your wetland. Respray your swamp. What happens? Where is soil collecting? And Why?
Upload a photo of your wetland to the Gallery!
Activity 3 – Wetland World Coverage Before Humans
What percentage of the world was covered by wetlands before humans arrived on the scene?
Activity 4 – Riverine Wetlands
Wetlands along our rivers and streams are essential because they benefit plants, animals, humans, and the total natural environment. Most wetlands are rich and diverse in wildlife because of the abundance of food, shelter, and water. Thousands of migratory ducks, geese, herons, cranes, and swans breed, rest, and winter in wetlands. Many fish and shellfish species spend part or all of their life cycle in fertile wetlands. Thousands of reptiles, amphibians, insects, and crustaceans also live and breed in wetland habitats. Draw a riverine freshwater wetland complete with fish, plants, birds, animals, and insects.
Activity 5 – Mississippi Delta
The Mississippi Delta provides 40% of the wetlands of the 48 southern states! A delta is an area of sediment carried down a river over thousands of years that continues to deposit plant and sediment layers. Since the last sea rise 5,000 years ago, the deposits have pushed sediments from 15 to 50 miles further from their shoreline into the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, the Mississippi delta accounts for 1/3 of all coastal wetlands of the United States. The Mississippi Delta presents an ever-shifting series of 521,000 acres of land with 420,000 acres of open estuarine waters, and 101,100 acres of natural channel banks and river passes with dredged material disposal. In addition, coastal marshes make up approximately 61,650 acres or about 61 percent of the total land area in the Mississippi River Delta Basin. Eighty-one percent of this marsh is fresh, 17 percent is intermediate, and 2 percent is brackish-saline. Draw a Map of the Meandering Missississippi River and its delta.
Activity 6 – Marshes, Swamps, and Bogs!
Wetlands meet land with water comprising swamps, marshes, and bogs. Like lowland forests that collect water, Swamps are forested with hardwoods, cedars, Cypress, and mangrove trees. On the other hand, Marshes usually do not have trees but have grasses, herbaceous, and perennial and biennial plants. Plants that grow in marshes bind to the muddy soil, slowing the flow of the water. Marshes can be tidal freshwater, tidal saltwater, or inland freshwater marshes. Tidal marshes follow the ebb and flow of the tides. Inland tidal freshwater marshes contain mostly freshwater along rivers and lakes but can tolerate low saltwater content. The most famous marsh in the United States is an inland marsh — the Everglades. The massive national park — the third biggest in the United States — is home to nine distinct types of habitat, including marshes, according to the Department of the Interior. Many people think of the Everglades as a swamp, but it is not. It is a wetland with the Big Cypress, 700,000 acres of nearby swampland. Big Cypress is critical to the health of the Everglades. Bogs are different from marshes and swamps as they are highly acidic with low oxygen levels. Bogs accumulate organic matter faster than they can decay. Know your wetlands! Draw a Bog, a lake marsh, and a treed swamp!
Activity 7 – Make a 21st Century Wetland Map
Activity 6 Wetland Destruction and Climate Change
In the 1600 hundreds, when settlers descended on native indigenous peoples, the area now known as the United States had more than 221 million acres of wetlands. Over the next 4 centuries, swamps, bogs, and fens were drained to build the cities and towns of the 21st century. By 1900, over half of the world’s wetlands had disappeared. Six States lost 85 percent or more of their original wetland acreage. Twenty-two states lost 50 percent or more (Dahl, 1990). Today wetlands in Indonesia and Malaysia are being drained for agriculture, as is the world’s largest mangrove forest, across India to southwestern Bangladesh. Once considered uninhabitable and undesirable areas, wetlands are now highly valued and essential for carbon sequestering and, in turn, climate change protection. Wetlands can sequester more carbon per square meter than tropical rainforests. Mapping their size, health, and location is key to protecting continents from flooding. Peatlands are the world’s most carbon-rich soils with decomposed plant material from thousands of years.
Make a map of the world’s wetlands in the 21st century.
- What is the difference between a Swamp and a Marsh?
- Which US State has the most wetlands?
- What is the largest Inland
- What percentage of the world's wetlands have been drained or lost to development?
- Which are disappearing faster...Wetlands or Forests?
- Blanket Bogs
- Destruction of Peatlands a Problem
- EPA Classification of Wetlands
- EPA Wetlands
- History of US Wetlands
- Horicon Marsh
- James Corner Restored Wetlands Baltimore
- Lowland Fens
- Mississippi River Delta
- Mississippi River Delta
- NY State Wetlands Hydric Soil
- Raised Bogs
- The EconomicValue of Wetlands: Everglades Foundation
- The Worth of Wetlands
- Tibet Wetlands Being Protected
- Upland Spring Flush and Fen
- US Fish & Wildlife Wetlands Mapper
- USPS History of Wetlands in the United States
- US Wetlands NEEF
- What percentage of wetlands have been lost since the 1900s?
- Where are the world's Wetlands
- Where are the World Wetlands?
- World's Largest Wetlands Conservation Priorities
- World Wetlands Day February 2
- Climate Change
- Water Conservation
- Water Quality