Your Wetlands and You

By Natalya Lawrence, Environmental Awareness Group

Christian Cove Wetland is a hotspot for many species of wetland birds Shanna Challenger

In Antigua, when we think of wetlands we think of swamps: nasty, smelly, waterlogged places riddled with wicked mosquitoes and starving sandflies. Why, oh why would we want to spend precious life moments at a swamp?! There is some truth to these thoughts but wetlands are arguably more vital than most of us may comprehend.

On 2nd February, 1971, understanding the importance of wetlands to human life and well-being, an international treaty was signed in Ramsar, Iran, called the Ramsar Convention or Convention on Wetlands. Annually on 2nd February, since 1997, countries promote the indispensability of wetlands. Here, as we struggle to balance development and frugal use of our natural resources, as we begin to understand how these wetlands support our economy and health, this celebration is necessary. This year’s theme is aptly dubbed “Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future”.

Spotted Sandpiper searches the water’s edge for invertebrates
Spotted Sandpiper searches the water’s edge for invertebrates
Photo by: Nick Hollands

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, permanently or seasonally. They vary from country to country and may be naturally occurring or artificially made. In Antigua and Barbuda, wetlands include mangrove swamps such as Christian Cove and Fitches Creek Swamp, dams such as Bethesda and Potworks, ponds such as McKinnon’s, reservoirs such as Wallings Reservoir, Creeks such as Indian Creek, and lagoons such as our internationally known and Ramsar-designated site, the Barbuda Lagoon.

Wetlands reduce flooding. Think of them as a sponge. They soak up floodwater releasing it gradually. Imagine an urban area developed close to where a wetland has been removed. Wetlands are excellent filters. In built-up areas where concrete and asphalt have replaced water-absorbing soil, surface run-off is increased during rains. The plants in wetlands filter this run-off which can include untreated sewage, pesticides and fertilizers. Some of these pollutants can also be trapped in the soil below the water in areas. Water leaving wetlands is in considerably better “shape” than when it entered. Wetlands act as an effective barrier against wind and wave action during storms. Think of them as a naturally occurring wall or breakwater. They are also important for our fisheries. Marine wetlands are nurseries for our sea life: fish, shrimp, lobster and the list goes on. Just think about the Barbuda Lagoon, and our famous lobsters! No wetland, no baby fish, no big fish.

The sun sets behind the Red Mangroves of birding hotspot - Fitches Creek Swamp
The sun sets behind the Red Mangroves of birding hotspot - Fitches Creek Swamp
Photo by: Shanna Challenger


Now to the fun part! As a major tourist destination, our country can add to our product by promoting the use of wetlands. With interpretive signage and non-intrusive boardwalks and paths, wetlands can support eco-tourism (local and international); a simple, easy way to observe our country’s natural beauty. In these areas, you are surrounded by wildlife including resident birds such as the sleek-looking Green Heron, migratory birds who travel jaw-dropping distances to flee the cold; birds such as the tiny, unassuming Ruddy Turnstone, or the Majestic Osprey that swoops in, perches and immediately demands your attention. Residents can take their exercise routine to the wetlands and have a refreshing jog on paths or boardwalks. Carefully managed non-motorised watersports can also be a boon in some wetlands.

Binoculars and spotting scopes are perfect for counting birds
Binoculars and spotting scopes are perfect for counting birds
Photo by: Shanna Challenger


In addition to nature, there is almost always a significant historical link to these wetlands.Think of the Pre-Columbian settlement at Indian Creek, or the wells dug close to wetlands in Bethesda and Parham, some dating back to the 1800s, still seen today. 

Our wetlands support high fashion! A local bird guide often relates his stories of guiding internationally acclaimed designers to wetlands where they sit, observe, and ponder on colours for the new season. 

EAG Birding Expert Junior Prosper teaches son how to use the Spotting Scope to view wetland birds
EAG Birding Expert Junior Prosper teaches son how to use the Spotting Scope to view wetland birds
Photo by: Shanna Challenger

As important as our wetlands are, they face real threats, primarily backfilling and development, and use as illegal dumping grounds. Sadly, the Fitches Creek Swamp, as one example, can be called Cooks Dump Part II. Also, we believe that swamps are naturally smelly. They can have strong smells, but a properly-functioning swamp, not adversely manipulated by human hands does not bear these overpowering, nauseating odours. 

As we implore you to go out to discover and responsibly enjoy Antigua and Barbuda’s wetlands, we ask that you think on the ways that they have contributed to your life. If you need suggestions on visiting a wetland, contact the Environmental Awareness Group at 462-6236. We’ll be happy to help. Also, don’t forget to take strong insect repellent; the mosquitoes and sandflies, those are no myths!     

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