Dear Mr. Wealthy IntroductionYou recently contacted us with the request that we help you decide which ecosystem benefits people most, and thus which you should invest your money in to protect. I find that wetlands are the ecosystem you should invest in, due to the high benefits created through both ecosystem services and carbon sequestration. Ecosystem ServicesTo better understand and identify the importance of this ecosystem, the benefits are sorted into 3 categories, called ecosystem services. The 3 categories are namely: provisioning services (products obtained from wetlands), regulating services (benefits obtained from process regulation such as water), and cultural services (benefits such as sacred sites). Wetlands provide a plethora of provisioning and regulating services, but perhaps the most important is water purification. Harmful chemicals and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus enter wetland through surface water and groundwater.
They then attach to sediment which settles to the wetland floor. Root systems absorb nutrients from the sediment and thus use it as plant material. This has the upsides of both providing safe drinking water, food and cover for wildlife species provisions, and wastewater treatment, a regulation (PURDUE). The WWF found that water supply and water filtering services provide an average economic value of 333 dollars per hectare per year (d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront). In fact, New York City avoided spending approximately $8 billion on new wastewater treatment plants by instead investing $1.
5 billion in restoring wetland found around upstate reservoirs (PANDA).Another beneficial regulating service that wetlands provide are flood control. Peatlands and wet grasslands work like sponge, absorbing and thus controlling how much rainwater flows into streams and rivers. When they become fully saturated, they help slow down the water flow and reduce runoff. Removing wetlands meanwhile increases the risk of flash floods (PANDA). The average economic value of this alone is $464 per hectare per year (d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront).
Wetlands are so effective that a recent study revealed that restoring a 100 year old flood zone in the Upper Mississippi watershed could store 48 billion cubic meters of water, saving over $16 billion in projected flood damage costs (EPA.gov). Carbon SequestrationWhilst these benefits are all very valuable, you are especially concerned about climate change and how the the ecosystem at hand affects carbon amounts in the atmosphere. Wetlands are crucial in absorbing atmospheric carbon because they are a ‘carbon sink’, meaning that they absorb and store carbon.
Despite covering just 9% of the earth’s surface, they store approximately 35% of terrestrial carbon (WETLANDINFO). Another recent report that surveyed 21 sites across the world claims that wetlands have a 118 g-C m-2 year-1 net carbon retention. (SPRINGER). Wetland vegetation absorbs carbon through a process known as ‘carbon sequestration’. The carbon is used as food for the plants.
Part of it’s returned back to the atmosphere when plants respire, whilst the rest gets added to soil either through internal transport or when they die. Wetlands are particularly good at storing carbon since the soil is mostly anaerobic. This occurs because when soil is submerged underwater, oxygen diffuses very slowly. Lack of oxygen means that organic matter in the soil breaks down much slower, thus releasing less carbon (HABITAT). However, changes in abiotic factor like humidity and rising sea levels can affect wetlands and their ability to sequestrate carbon. For example, wetter climates may increase their surface area and thus promote more carbon sequestration whilst drier climates increase oxidation of soil.
Coastal wetlands are also vulnerable to rising sea levels as plants may die, though lowering productivity and increasing emissions through decay (ENVIRONMENT.GOV). Since both drier climates and rising sea levels can both be caused by global warming, it is essentially to start preserving wetlands now so that this does not happen later on.Future of WetlandsHowever, wetlands are under threat from a magnitude of human activities. It is so severe that more than 50% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since the 1900s (d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront). The main way wetlands have been destroyed is through drainage and conversion. Of the 54% of wetlands lost in the USA, 87% of that has been due to agricultural development, with another 8% due to urban development.
Another problem is when sediments are dredged to find metals such as gold or mineral resources such as clay and peat. This oxidises the soil, causing the release of mass amounts of carbon that were previously trapped and thus negating the effects of carbon sequestration. .
Luckily, there are ways that wetlands can be restored through, namely through restoration of degraded floodplains and the creation of wetland in areas they did not previously exist (d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront). There are solutions that exist to replace the functions of wetlands, such as using artificial carbon sinks where carbon is captured and injected into the ocean floor or underground ‘vaults’ to be stored. Furthermore, as explained above, artificial wetlands can be created to replace already destroyed wetlands.
However, creating surface flow wetlands costs on average $100,000 per hectare, much more than the calculated financial value of $2260 per hectare (d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront) (CMHC). This is why your purchase of wetlands would be the most viable and helpful option. ConclusionFor decades, people have considered wetlands nothing more than cheap land, destroying them for alternate uses.
But this is not the case, and it is vital to protect them. Not only do wetlands provide shelter to hundreds of species of animals, from birds to fish to mammals, they also protect humans and communities from floods and other water related natural disasters. In fact, studies show that coastal wetlands saved more $625 million in property damage, and countless lives, during Hurricane Sandy alone (theconversation). Furthermore, wetlands create jobs, with the US coast providing 69 million jobs (earthshare).
Destroying this land would essentially be taking those people’s jobs away. However, buying lands could both provide a further investment opportunities,