It's World Wetlands Day once again. Yesterday we made some DIY frogs (folding instructions here) and a couple of DIY turtles. Today we'll be sacrificing a virgin.
Why, you ask?
There are many reasons:
1) Wetlands are “the kidneys of the landscape,” able to filter out pollutants from, for instance, agricultural runoffs and urban effluents.
2) Because of their bioremediating properties, wetlands can be a cheap alternative to municipal waste water treatment.
3) During particularly heavy storm events, they act as temporary water storage tanks. They then release the excess water slowly rather than in a deluge, lowering flood heights and minimizing the damage of valuable property downstream.
4) Wetlands also store carbon within their live and preserved (peat) plant biomass instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Therefore, wetlands world-wide help to moderate global climate change.
5) Along the coast, they are good at mitigating the effects of hurricane storm surges, tsunamis, and the less energetic but no less destructive normal ebb and flow of ocean waves.
6) Wetlands help to replenish aquifers that so many people depend on.
7) They are “biological supermarkets,” producing annual commercial harvests of fish and shellfish that sometimes amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Indeed, many people rely on wetlands for their livelihood.
8) As eco-attractions, they inject a sizable amount of tourist income to the local economy.
Wetlands, in other words, provide so many beneficial services for people that they are very much deserving of a sacrificial virgin. Or two.
Meanwhile, apart from their more tangible benefits, wetlands have always been a source of intellectual fascination for us. According to Rodney Giblett in his book, Postmodern Wetlands: Culture, History, Ecology, only recently have people come to see them as very important features in the landscape. Especially “in the west,” they were long seen as “places of darkness, disease and death, horror and the uncanny, melancholy and the monstrous.”
Dante and Milton demonized them, calling them the embodiment of sin and impurity, the darkest expression of a corrupted inner self. Popular culture in later eras has populated their murky depths with the Swamp Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, murderers and pederasts, satanic occultists and incestuous cousins.
Empires and fledgling nations everywhere simply thought of them as a wasteland, an obstacle towards their Manifest Destiny. So they were drained, cleared of vegetation and filled in. Suffocating them out of their own hydrology was a cause célèbre, indeed considered a heroic act, because to destroy wetlands was to be civilized.
Now with greater scientific understanding of their environmental functions, wetlands are undergoing a sort of cultural reconstruction. In a reversal of fortune that landscape scholars must surely find interesting at the very least, they are metamorphosizing from an anti-Eden into an ecological paradise.
Anyway, Happy World Wetlands Day!