Wetlands sequester carbon from the atmosphere through plant photosynthesis and act as sediment traps for runoff. Carbon is held in the living vegetation as well as in litter, peats, organic soils and sediments that havebuilt up, in some instances, over thousands of years.
But that’s not all wetlands have to offer. On a global scale, they provide us with services worth trillions of US dollars every year – entirely free of charge – making a vital contribution to human health and wellbeing.
Wetlands improve water quality by removing pollutants from surface waters. As water from a stream channel or surface runoff enters a wetland, the water spreads out and flows through dense vegetation. The velocity of the flow is reduced, allowing suspended material in the water to settle to the wetland surface. The roots of wetland plants can then bind the accumulated sediments. As much as 90% of the sediments that are present in runoff or in streamflow may be removed if the water passes through wetlands.
By slowing down rainwater runoff, wetlands help prevent sudden, damaging floods downstream.
While wetlands cover a relatively small area of the earth’s surface, many of them are extremely rich in biodiversity.
Excluding rivers and streams that are sometimes classified as wetlands, approximately 3,892 hectares of our landholdings in Southern Africa are currently classified as inland wetlands. These inland wetlands consist of a variety of wetland types, including freshwater marshes, peatlands, seeps and floodplains. The extensive upland vleis of the Highveld are primarily moist grassland surrounding wetland marshes in valleys, and these moist grasslands play a vital role in supplying water to the low-lying areas.
We’re proud to say that Sappi was involved in the development of Wet-Health, one of the first comprehensive wetland health assessment tools to be developed for assessing South African wetlands. The toolkit enables us to:
With the aid of the toolkit, we prioritise the importance of our wetlands, assess their catchment areas and refine management plans to ensure they are managed to provide a sustainable flow of clean water and a sound habitat for biodiversity.