The Pantanal; Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia
Swamps are sometimes considered eerie places, places where living things die – and perhaps dead things live! In fact, though, they have their own important biosystems and beauty, and are often nature reserves for numerous mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds.
Lake Drummond, Great Dismal Swamp, Virginia
Here, we at Environmental Graffiti take a look at 10 of the most beautiful swamps in the world.
10. The Great Dismal Swamp, Virginia and North Carolina, USA
The Great Dismal Swamp is located along the borders of Virginia and North Carolina and is one of the last great wild areas in the Eastern United States. Despite its name, it is also far from a dreary place! The swamp had been devastated by centuries of logging and bad management, but in 1974 things started to look up. According to Wikipedia: “[T]he Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1973 when the Union Camp Corporation of Franklin, Virginia donated 49,100 acres (200 km²) of land; the refuge was officially established through The Dismal Swamp Act of 1974.”
The Great Dismal Swamp harbors an array of plant life, as well as a great many mammal species, the black bear, bobcat and otter to name but a few. Two hundred birds species are also to be found in the swamp, 96 of which nest there, and there are more than 70 species of reptiles and amphibians.
9. Okavango Swamp, Botswana
The stunning Okavango Delta is the biggest inland delta on earth. Located in Botswana’s Kalahari desert, it covers 15,000 square kilometers. Known for its beauty and wildlife, during the rainy season it teems with mammals and birds, many of which migrate away when the rains cease. With 11,000,000,000,000 liters of water entering the delta every year, you might think most of it drains into body of water, but actually 60% is taken up by plant transpiration, 36% evaporates, and only 2% runs into Lake Ngami.
8. Bangweulu Swamps, Zambia
Located in Zambia, Bangweulu – which means “where the water sky meets the sky” – is definitely among the world’s most beautiful swamps. Aesthetics notwithstanding, all the lagoons and channels in these swamplands act as a check on flooding in the Luapula Valley. The local legend is that Lake Bangweulu is the place where lives the Emela-ntouka, a mythological creature about the size of a bush elephant but which is said to look more like a rhinoceros. Although there are countless stories about sightings and ancestors who’ve killed one of these cryptids, so far evidence is lacking!
7. Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana, USA
The largest swamp in the US, the Atchafalaya Basin is located in south central Louisiana. Apart from being majestically beautiful, it is unique among other swamps in its area because of its growing delta system. Its surrounding basin is made up of bald cypress swamps (seen in the images), bayous and marshes.
The threatened Louisiana black bear is to be found here in the Atchafalaya Basin as well as countless birds and other animals. Due to the perceived need to control the flooding and water, levees have been built, and the channeling of water has begun to degrade the saltmarshes, which act as buffers. The saltmarsh buffers are important barricades against hurricanes and the devastation they can wreak, and their survival is pivotal to the coastal environment of Louisiana. Vanishing delta land is among the most worrying of ecological threats in the US.
6. Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia and Florida, USA
One of the “Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia”, the Okefenokee Swamp also has a foot in Florida. Spreading over 438,000 acres, it is the largest peat-based swamp in North America and among the largest such swamps worldwide. Its original name means both “bubbling water” and “trembling earth” in the now extinct Hitichi language and was applied partly because of its spongy bogs. At one point, this beautiful swamp was in danger from a titanium mining operation, but the protests caused the company to donate the land it had acquired to the Conservation Fund.
5. The Pantanal, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia
The Pantanal is one of the largest wetlands on earth – if not the largest of all – and is surely also one of the most beautiful. Most of it lies in Brazil but there are portions of it in Paraguay and Bolivia as well. It is estimated to be between 140,000 and 195,000 square kilometers in size, with 80% of this submerged during the rainy season. The area is so vast that it contains a number of regional ecosystems. As well as presenting stunning vistas, it is home to more than 10,000 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and invertebrates, as well as thousands more plant species.
4. La Digue Swamps, Seychelles
La Digue is the fourth largest inhabited island in the Seychelles, and its swamps (into which some coconut trees have gained a foothold) are among its biggest attractions – apart from the beaches of course! La Digue is also home to the rare Black Paradise-flycatcher bird, which is so threatened that there are only around 100 left alive.
3. Tigris-Euphrates Swamp, West Asia
Once known as Mesopotamia, this area’s two large rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, are fed by its swamps, marshes and lakes. Surrounded by desert, it is one of the most important sources of water in the upper Persian Gulf, the ecology of which relies upon it. In 1994, Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, worked to dry up the marshes and re-rout the rivers in order to gain political control over the local inhabitants, the Marsh Arabs. This also caused the loss of 52 native fish species, as well as water birds, and mammals species such wild boar and buffalo. Water rights arguments between Turkey, Syria and Iraq are also turning the swamp into a political football, but hopefully common sense – and this most beautiful of swamps – will prevail.
2. The Everglades, Florida, USA
Designated as one of only three wetlands of global importance by UNESCO, the Everglades (called by a name which translates as “grassy water” in the language of the Seminole Indians) are beauty itself. They contain a number of ecosystems, including sawgrass marsh, which is often referred to as the “true Everglades”. When the sawgrass is thick not much else lives there except alligators which nest among it. Aside from sawgrass, there are also cypress and mangrove swamp areas in the Everglades as well as lake and marine areas. Another ecosystem is that of tropical hardwood hammocks, which grow one to three feet above the sloughs like small islands.
One of the biggest problems facing the Everglade swamps is the continuous diversion of water for human needs through the use of levees and canals. Oftentimes there is too much diverted during one season but not enough during another. This is especially difficult for the endangered species that make the swamplands home – including wading birds, whose numbers have dropped by 90% over the past half century.
1. Candaba Swamp, the Philippines
The Canadaba Swamp in the Philippines is among the most beautiful watery areas in the world. Encompassing 32,000 hectares, it is also one of the foremost bird sanctuaries, especially for those that are migrating. In a recent census, a Philippine record was broken with 17,000 birds sighted in a twenty-four hour period. The swamp itself is completely submerged during the rainy season, but during November through April it dries out enough that rice and watermelons can be planted in the arable land.
As we have seen in this look at the world’s most gorgeous swamps, they are not places of decay, ghosts or death but rather are vibrant and full of life – areas that are home to myriad mammals, fish, reptiles, birds, invertebrates and amphibians. Not only do such species live there, but many which are endangered thrive in the swampy conditions. This means it is of vital importance that we conserve these swamps instead of trying to divert the waters and change the ecosystems of these precious resources.