THE IMPORTANCE OF WETLANDS
• Wetlands are important for so many reasons. They prevent flooding by holding water much like a sponge. By doing so, wetlands help keep River levels normal and filter and purify the surface water.
• Wetlands accept water during storms and whenever water levels are high. When water levels are low, wetlands slowly release water.
• Wetlands also clean the water by filtering out sedimentation, decomposing vegetative matter and converting chemicals into useable form.
• The ability of wetlands to recycle nutrients makes them critical in the overall functioning of earth. No other ecosystem is as productive, or as unique in this conversion process. In some places artificial wetlands were developed solely for the purpose of water purification.
• Wetlands are vulnerable to over-exploitation due to their abundance of fish, fuel and water. When they are viewed as unproductive or marginal lands, wetlands are targeted for drainage and conversion. In many different ways, wetlands are on the “front-line” as development pressures increase. In some states of the federation, a lot of sand filling of inland wetlands is actively going on in order to create land for construction of housing estates and other infrastructural facilities.
The rate of loss and deterioration of wetlands is accelerating in all regions of the world. The pressure on wetlands is likely to intensify in the coming decades due to increased global demand for land and water, as well as climate change.
WETLANDS IN NIGERIA
Nigeria is one of the countries in the world richly endowed with both coastal and inland wetlands, while the country’s food supply shortages are met through wetland production. Internationally, 11 wetlands are recognized in Nigeria, while altogether wetland covers about three per cent of the country’s land surface.
Today Nigeria has over 12.5 million hectares of freshwaters which could yield approximately 510,000t of fish (Ita et.al., 1985). These waters also harbour many freshwater dependent vertebrates some of which depend on fish as their main source of food. There are over 200 species of fish in Nigerian inland waters, 14 species of reptiles, 7 species of mammals, 59 species of amphibians and 72 species of water-associated birds. In terms of total number of vertebrate species associated with inland waters, fish contribute 57%, and the other groups 49% of the total. This shows the importance of the latter groups for the inland water ecosystems.