Pop Quiz: Wetlands

You probably know that the oceans covers more than 70% of the surface of our planet. But do you know how much is covered by freshwater habitats, such as lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands?

leopard gecko

© naturepl.com / Sven Zacek / WWF

Not Quite! The correct answer is: less than 1%

Water is essential for all life on Earth. Freshwater is used for drinking, sanitation, agriculture, transportation, electricity generation, and recreation. Freshwater habitats, like lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands, house more than 10% of all known animal species and about 50% of all known fish species, despite covering less than 1% of the earth's surface.

Wetlands are just one of these freshwater habitats, and they’re often undervalued. Not only are they natural water filters and carbon-storing champions, they’re also crucial for food security. Wetlands support the cultivation of rice, a staple in the diet of half the world’s population. And they provide flood control, clean water, shoreline and storm protection, materials, medicines, and vital habitat.

A wide variety of species live in wetlands. Birds—including ducks, geese, kingfishers, and sandpipers—use wetlands as pit stops during long migrations, providing them with protection and food. Mammals—such as otters, beavers, and even tigers—rely on wetlands to find food and shelter. And, of course, wetlands are home to many types of fish and insects.

Wetlands take many forms including rivers, marshes, bogs, mangroves, mudflats, ponds, swamps, billabongs, lagoons, lakes, and floodplains. As much as 87% of the world's wetlands has been lost over the past 300 years, with much of this loss happening after 1900. WWF is working to conserve and protect these valuable habitats.

Enjoy more fascinating facts about wetlands—and lots of wonderful photos.