Swamps are Underrated

A swamp is a wetland partially or intermittently covered with water and often dominated by thick woody vegetation Swamps are known for their hydric soils and diverse ecosystem. The diverse ecosystem hosts a wide variety of plants. Most plants have either adapted to be emergent, semi-out of the water, or to be completely submerged plants. Duckweed, cattails, wetland milkweed, and the waterlily are some of my favorites.

However, this is not not what makes swamps so important. Wetlands have been called “nature’s kidneys” because of their natural ability to filter impurities from the water, improving water quality. Swamps also perform other important functions including reducing flood flow and shoreline erosion control. The swamps hydric soil soaks up any natural changes in the pH of the water. In fact, Ohio has had a major flooding problem ever since the Great Black Swamp was drained and dredged (yes, the area just west of Hudson used to be a swamp).

Humans have caused significant changes in the wetland, as in most other habitats. These changes have impacted the physical, chemical and biological composition of the wetlands. Land clearing and development have caused increased erosion in the highlands which increases sedimentation in swampy areas. Stream channelization, industrial waste, sewage and dam construction all have lasting effects on the swamps around the world. When you consider wetlands as a barrier against human mistakes, it becomes clear that we must protect this irreplaceable habitat. Recent trends in federal and state law have contributed to the preservation and protection throughout the country, whereas before wetlands were seen only as potential infrastructure. In Maryland, the gradual rise of the sea level due to climate change, about 3 to 4 millimeters per year, has the potential to both increase wetland flooding on low-lying uplands. Coastal swamps are particularly vulnerable to rising sea level because they are mostly within a few feet of the sea. In almost every swamp in America, from the Great Dismal Swamp in South Carolina to the Cypress Swamps in the Southern states, there are invasive species such as Purple Loosestrife. Thankfully, Maryland has recognized the irreversible impact of drainage for agricultural use and filling for industrial use of our nation’s wetlands and has begun passing laws to protect their wetlands. The U.S. passed the Clean Water Act to protect “those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions”. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas. Ohio seems to be following suit. This legal action is crucial if we are to save our ever-fragile ecosystem and ultimately ourselves.

Swamps are just pretty cool. The unfortunately named great dismal swamp is absolutely stunning. Alligators are just awesome. Human civilization itself began in the Tigris–Euphrates river system. The Congo is just fascinating, the Everglades are an important barrier against hurricanes, and the Candaba swamp in the philippines is ranked one of the most beautiful places in the world.

-Lizzy Krapf ’21

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