Sun, Nov 10, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Bringing the world’s buried wetlands back from the dead

As landowners identify possible ‘ghost ponds’ and revive them, insects and birds return with vigor

By Matthew Brown and James Brooks  /  AP, HINDOLVESTON, England

Illustration: Louise Ting

The ghosts are all around the gently rolling farmlands of eastern England, but you have to know where to look.

These are not the kind of phantoms that scare or haunt — they are ghost ponds. Over the years, landowners buried them, filling in wetlands so they had more land for planting crops and other needs, or let ponds fade away with neglect. Along with those ponds, they erased entire ecosystems — and contributed to the decline of wetlands worldwide.

The result: an array of environmental calamities, ranging from rising floods to species hurtling toward extinction.

There are some who are trying to reclaim these lost waterbodies. In the wetlands of eastern England, a motley team of farmers, university researchers and conservationists is digging into the region’s barley and wheat fields to turn back the clock. They seek out patches of muddy earth that hint at lost ponds lurking beneath.

Using chain saws, an excavator and plenty of sweat, the team takes just a few hours to resurrect one dying pond near Hindolveston, a 1,000-year-old village not far from the North Sea. They fell trees and shrubs, then start digging until reaching their goal: an ancient pond bottom that once supported insects, aquatic plants and the birds and animals that fed on them.

“As soon as they get water and light, they just spring to life,” says Nick Anema, a farmer in nearby Dereham who has restored seven ponds on his property. “You’ve got frogs and toads and newts, all the insects like mayflies, dragonflies, damselflies... You can’t really beat a pond.”

However, the battle for the wetlands is a struggle. While efforts are under way to stem losses and regain some of what has been lost, wetlands around the world continue to be filled in and plowed over.

Almost 90 percent of the world’s wetlands disappeared over the past three centuries, according to the Ramsar Convention, an organization formed around a 1971 treaty to protect wetlands. The loss rate has accelerated since the 1970s, with wetlands now disappearing three times faster than the world’s forests, the group says.

Every type of naturally occurring wetland has suffered — from ponds, freshwater swamps and coastal marshes, to fens, bogs and other peatlands.

The consequences can be profound:

‧ Roughly 5,000 wetland-dependent species threatened with extinction, including mammals, birds and amphibians, according to Ramsar.

‧ Fewer natural storage areas to hold back torrential rains means more severe floods in many parts of the world, including the US heartland, as seen this summer.

‧ Draining wetlands, such as in Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations, can release huge amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, a major contributor to climate change.

‧ Climate change also threatens to worsen the problem. Warmer temperatures and changing rainfall patterns can trigger drought, leading to more pumping of water reserves that otherwise would feed surface wetlands, scientists say.

‧ Wetlands in northern China, the central US, northern Africa, India and the Middle East already have been depleted by the pumping of underground aquifers for agriculture.

“We now know the value of wetlands, and we know with increasing precision how many wetlands we’re losing. The next step is for the governments to act,” says Royal Gardner, director of the Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy at Stetson University in Florida.

This story has been viewed 2280 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top