What are Wetlands?
“Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide dies not exceed six metres.”
Uses of the Wetlands
Wetlands are an integral part of the natural environment of Trinidad and Tobago. They provide employment for large numbers of people, particularly at the level of fishermen, farmers and village communities.
These include the direct extraction of timber, charcoal, tannins, honey, medicinal plants, fish, oysters, mussels, conch, shrimp, hunting of ducks and eco-tourism tours.
Almost all local rice production and much of the vegetable and watermelon crops come from wetland areas.
Wetlands are cradles of biological diversity, providing the water and food upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival.
They support high concentrations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species, including manatees, red howler monkeys, conch and macaws, scarlet ibises, cascadura, caimans and oysters.
Of great importance is the ‘nursery’ function of coastal wetlands. They provide safe habitat to the young fish, shrimp, lobsters and conch.
Storehouse for genetic Diversity
Wetlands are also important storehouses of plant genetic material. Rice, which is a common wetland plant, is the staple diet of more than half of humanity.
Food Source for Other Areas
Wetlands export considerable quantities of organic matter downstream or out to sea.
This is important as wetlands are able to support food chains that sustain coastal fisheries and coral reefs such as in the Buccoo/Bon Accord Lagoon and Buccoo Reef continuum in Tobago.
Role in Water Resource Protection
Acting as giant sponges, wetlands also absorb rainfall and slowly release it, while helping to purify water and control floods.
Some of the nation’s wetlands play important roles in floodwater retention and supply of water, including the recharge of groundwater aquifers and buffering and dilution of pollutants. These benefits have considerable socio-economic significance.
Our wetlands buffer salinity changes by reducing the volume of freshwater going to the sea, they provide storm protection and flood mitigation, shoreline stabilization and erosion control. Wetlands assist in groundwater recharge and water purification through the retention of nutrients, sediments, and pollutants. Heavy metals are absorbed by the wetland plants, thus reducing the pollution going form land to sea. Wetlands play an important role in the stabilization of local microclimate conditions, particularly rainfall and temperature.