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( Article Type: Explanation )

Wetlands (vleis, bogs, swamps, sponges or marshes) are vital ecosystems, which have been described as some of the most productive in the world. They help to cleanse water of pollutants, provide habitats for a variety of plant, animal and insect species and regulate floods.

Wetlands act as breeding grounds for important bird and fish species and have an extraordinary diversity of plant species, which contribute to the capacity of wetlands to filter and cleanse water of natural and man-made pollutants.

Wetlands are excellent scavengers of pesticides and toxins, and can remove between 20% and 100% of heavy metals. Wetlands also act as vital water regulators, absorbing excess water during rainy periods and releasing water during the dry seasons. However, throughout the world, much effort is being taken to drain these areas and reclaim the land for alternative uses.

There is a great deal of ignorance about the role and importance of wetlands, although in South Africa the new recognition of the importance of water and its costing in legislation is helping to put more focus on the need to protect wetlands both for water supply and purification and ecological and biodiversity purposes.

Until quite recently, South African farmers were paid subsidies to reclaim wetlands and convert them into farmland. In southern Africa, the Okavango Swamp, one of the most important wetlands globally and regionally, is under threat of drainage for mining and agricultural purposes.