Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Conserve Papyrus Swamps?

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Papyrus Swamps as a Habitat in Africa

The swamps of Africa provide stopping over places each year for millions of migrating birds. One of the most valuable resting stops on the migration route from Europe to Africa is the floodplain of the Jordan River Valley an extension of the African Rift Valley. Within the Valley a most important resource is the Huleh Swamp, a papyrus swamp in which at least 530 species have been recorded and in which 25,000 cranes spend the winter. This is out of a population of 75,000 cranes that fly back and forth between Europe.

Considering that an estimated 500 million birds pass through the region each year, and the extent of habitat that papyrus provides for birds in Africa (estimated at 9 million acres) it appears that papyrus swamps are a major world resource for birds. Birds, in turn, form the life blood of tourism which provides Africa with a major source of foreign exchange. It is a growth sector not to be ignored.

Papyrus Swamps Natural Filters for Sewage

The photo shows a papyrus swamp thriving on sewage that is leaving the municipal treatment facility in Kampala, Uganda in Africa. Papyrus takes up vast quantities of nutrients that would otherwise flow into Lake Victoria.

Conservation of Papyrus Swamps

Recent work by Maclean, Boar and Lugo, a team of ecologists at the Universities of Exeter and East Anglia, has shown that the use of papyrus swamps in a multifunctional, sustainable manner (for handicrafts, fishing, fuel, thatching and low intensity food cropping) can produce rural income far in excess of that derived when the swamps are cleared for building or agriculture.

Yet papyrus swamp habitats throughout Africa are being drained, burnt over and reclaimed, in addition, they are sites for spraying mosquitoes, mollusks and tsetse fly using pesticides that are toxic to small fish and insects, which contaminates the food chain of aquatic birds and is taking its toll each year.

When papyrus swamps are cleared, nutrients and runoff from farms pollute local waters as in the aerial photo taken along the shore of an African lake. Papyrus clearly is a great natural asset and provides an effective environmental barrier at little cost.

In several places in Africa efforts to restore papyrus swamps have begun, but it may be too little, too late. As with many wetlands, such as the Everglades in the US, it is now clear that the best practice is to leave the wetland intact, or in Africa to encourage rural multiuse in a sustainable fashion.

© Copyright 2009 John J. Gaudet, All Rights Reserved

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