We’ve heard a lot lately about draining swamps, and I’m a little tired of it. A swamp is rather loosely defined as an intermittently wet lowland dominated by trees. But it is a richly diverse and viable ecosystem that is an integral part of virtually every biome and necessary for the health of the planet.
Different groups of organisms occupy different parts of the swamp. Fish, shrimp, crayfish, tadpoles, insect larvae inhabit the oxygen poor waters. Others, like alligators or nutria, live at the water’s surface.
And others live above the water either in the canopy or air, or on the spongy land. Birds, frogs and insects live in and out and above the water. All utilize and contribute to the rich food web that is part of this vibrant ecosystem.
Swamps are not only vital to the diverse organisms that live there, but are an essential habitat in support of adjacent habitats. Swamps, fens, bogs, wetlands, or whatever they are locally called, often serve as nurseries for organisms from other ecosystems. This is especially true at the brackish water interface between coastal wetlands and ocean systems. Organisms can find protected areas to deposit their eggs and the newborn critters find protection and food among the plants and roots. This is vital to keep the species growing and thriving.
So what is it about a swamp, that humans makes want to drain them? Oddly enough, there is no word for a fear of swamps, but there are many things in nature that humans are afraid of. Fear of plants, fear of lakes, fear of floods, fear of alligators, snakes, insects, rivers, frogs, birds, and on and on. You get the picture. A swamp can be a mysterious place – no name for a fear of that, or wet places.
A swamp is foreign to most humans. It can be dark, mysterious and dangerous. These are things instilled in us since childhood. to fear and to avoid. Rather than teach us to face our fears, to embrace new and different experiences, our parents (for the most part) reinforce and exacerbate our fears. So, instead of using vigilance and common sense, we learn early on – to attack and eliminate rather than understand and embrace.
I think some humans might be afraid of the powerful energies of nature that can be found in a swamp. Most of all I think humans just find a swamp to be in their way. If you can’t find a way through it, then you have to find a way around it.
Then there is human greed. The person who knows the way through the swamp could charge others for guiding them through. But then there is the desire, with no regard for nature or the benefits of the swamp, to make use of the land taken up by the swamp.
If we are to continue to survive on this planet we will have to stop putting our own selfish desires ahead of living in harmony with nature and the planet. And that includes using swamps as a metaphor for something bad that must be destroyed. This is especially true when “draining the swamp” means replacing it with a toxic waste dump.