Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, NJ photo by Linda Wasson ©2017
A hideous, contrived twist on words introduced during the 2016 US presidential campaign implied that “draining the swamp” was a positive force, even desirable. One who “drained the swamp” was associated with integrity, courage and honor.
Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.
Swamps are an integral part of the environmental ecosystem known as wetlands. Bogs, marshes, glades, bayous, and yes, swamps: all are part of complex symbiotic structures naturally evolved over time. These areas provide fresh water and habitat for numerous species world-wide including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and arachnids. Wetlands are an integral part of a massive and intricately designed web of life that cannot be easily replicated, or exist just anywhere. Water is what makes life on Earth possible and wetlands are literally at the cradle of this life process.
In short, drain the swamps and one literally destroys not just habitat, but nurseries, fresh water and food sources. Most logical and forward thinking people would agree this is a bad idea, right?
Yet for some time popular media has assailed swamps and wetlands in general, even before the “drain the swamps” misinformation phrase was coined. Monsters, filth (pond “scum”), backwards-thinking humans, witches and of course, escaped prison convicts have all been associated with swamps. The bad press continues into modern time as swamps are still associated with poisonous snakes, murky brown water and of course, swamp gas, the ethereal vapor drifting upwards and frequently identified – or misidentified – as UFOs.
The more commonly designated term of “wetlands” is often confusing, and even appears to be a somewhat feeble attempt to correct the longstanding record of bad press. Unfortunately, considering how mainstream media has latched onto the “drain the swamp” phrase, most people do appear to understand wetlands are good but remain under the misconception that swamps are bad. This fallacy is proving lethal for far too many land areas as well as for the wildlife, and consequently, the people – as all of humanity – who depend on them. And make no mistake about it, all of us do depend on swamps a/k/a wetlands.
Swamps, bogs, marshes, and all the corresponding terms that define wetlands are geographical areas varying in size that have standing water most, if not, all year round. While often found in coastal areas such as the Gulf Coast, wetlands (including swamps) often serve as a buffer zone between the ocean and higher land masses. Draining wetlands in order to build houses or industry might appear to be a positive and economically desirable act. Reclamation projects are even carried out by government agencies to provide more land for developers. In this situation, the term “reclamation” is meant that there is land under water which may be only a few inches, or simply flood-prone certain times of the year or in particular situations, such as when a nearby river floods. The assumption is to “drain” the land (which all too often is simply temporary) and everything is fine!
The term “reclamation” therefore is misleading as the land under the water is exactly where it belongs and doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. Soil within a wetland environment actually filters the water on top, providing fresh water into the underground aquifers below. Whether it’s a salt water flood from the ocean, too much rain, a river flooding its banks, or all of the above: wherever water accumulates in a wetland area it will slowly filter down into the aquifer. This is extremely important for many reasons, not the least of which communities everywhere depend on these aquifers for sustaining life.
Of course, when storms bring rainfall or snow melt, that excess water now is trapped on what often is a concrete or asphalt surface, or worse, in people’s homes, because now it has nowhere to drain off! (But I thought we drained it, you ask?)
The wildlife which depend on wetlands is both extensive and highly diverse. Where I grew up, on the Gulf Coast, when one mentions swamps or bayous, the wildlife that immediately comes to mind includes alligators, birds, mosquitoes and snakes. Turtles, fish and mammals such as raccoons, rabbits, opossum, among others, are secondary as there are so many of the first, people are often discouraged from going any further! It’s definitely true, too, that some wetlands such as the ones on the Gulf Coast, can be daunting to visit, even dangerous. Certainly Hollywood has had a lot to do with this, considering how popular monster films featuring swamp creatures are!
Since this is the first blog post for Earth Documentary Resistance, the goal is to introduce you, the Reader, to looking at the world around us in a slightly different context. While you may already consider yourself environmentally aware, and I certainly hope you are, there is always more to learn. Swamps, bogs, marshes, bayous; all these wondrous ecosystems which comprise wetlands literally surround us. They are far more plentiful than people imagine and need our protection every bit as much as forests, mountains, rivers and other great environmental landscapes.
As I live in the Bronx, in New York City, I wanted to visit an actual swamp to provide some interesting photos that would inspire readers as well as demonstrate the beauty of swamps. I wanted the photos to come from a local swamp but one that was not coastal, rather inland. This is noteworthy because we definitely have marshes and wetlands here in New York City, and I will most definitely write about them in the future. As New Jersey is known for having wetlands, a quick search came up with the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge!
I was actually shocked as it was both extremely close by – only about an hour’s drive, maybe less but also that I had never heard of it! That’s what’s so disheartening about swamps and wetlands in general. The press coverage is so limited or just plain bad when it is in the news: Cue in: 1. Zika virus 2. mosquitos 3. swamps.
How can an average swamp expect to compete?
Of course the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is no exception as here in the northeast, Lyme disease is rampant in wooded areas and consequently one must be extremely careful about ticks. But the truth is, there are inherent dangers in just about everything we do in life.
However, when one speaks of the risks concerning swamps, the general attitude is “What do you expect? It’s a swamp!” rather than “well, when I go to the beach I wear sunscreen. I am also cautious about rip tides, so this is just something else to be aware of.” Makes sense, doesn’t it? There are risks in every activity and all around us – not just in swamps!
My own precaution includes visiting the outdoors in cooler weather when ticks are much less likely to be out and about. In fact, all bugs are less active in cooler weather. That goes for snakes too!
I’d like to think that this article and accompanying photos will at the very least, convince you that swamps are critical to our environment and definitely worth protecting! Hopefully they’ll also inspire you to find a wetland in your community, take time to visit, enjoy the nature that flourishes there, and generally be grateful that nature actually knew what it was doing all along! Remember: draining land is at best, a temporary and often futile attempt to change what took millenia to perfect.
Eventually, nature will overcome that which humans have upset, but doesn’t it just make more sense not to upset the balance in the first place?
I hope you enjoy this blog and find it informative, helpful or simply interesting. For now, I will continue discussing swamps, wetlands, and other water sources as well as posting more photos. Please feel free to discuss, ask questions or just comment spontaneously.
Remember: Don’t Drain the Swamps!!