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Wetlands play role in mitigating impacts of climate change

Wetlands play role in mitigating impacts of climate change

MANA — As the story goes, there was as time in the not-so-distant past when you could paddle a canoe all the way from Waimea to Polihale during the wet season without touching the ocean.

A vast wetland appeared annually. This was in the 1800s before wetlands were drained for agricultural purposes.

Today, the state’s first wetland-restoration project on Kaua‘i, the Kawai‘ele Waterbird Sanctuary, is about to expand.

The addition of 100 acres of wetland will provide more habitat for native Hawaiian birds and, as Jason Vercelli of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife puts it, “If you can protect, restore and re-create wetland areas, you’ll end up with a big sponge.”

On the 24th annual World Wetlands Day, scientists and wetlands managers are calling attention to the wide array of ecological services and help to humanity these shallow, species-rich environments provide.

Helen Raine of Pacific Birds said, “One of the things they can do is to help purify our water. During major rain events like we see in Hawai‘i, a wetland can trap and allow pollutants and toxins to settle before they reach the ocean.

“In the same way they can help us control sediment and store flood water.” She said if humans protect and look after wetlands, they can provide a lot of services that people are going to need as the climate warms.

“Wetlands are also home to some of our endangered Hawaiian waterbirds, like the Koloa maoli (Koloa duck). Building flood resilience for people through natural infrastructure like wetlands will also help those birds.”

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