Rivers are essential pieces to most of the natural puzzles that are Earth’s ecosystems. Metaphorically speaking, they are akin to the blood vessels of our planet. They carry with them freshwater, nutrients, and various marine life vital to the delicate balance of many lush and flourishing ecosystems found in nature. There are several different and important moving parts that make up a river, and from them, we can extrapolate a great benefit to the environment & the need to protect them.
The importance of rivers to the environment
There are many sources of water from which rivers flow, and not all of them are simply large bodies of water. In addition to springs and lakes, they can originate from wet, overflowing swamp areas, down the side of a mountain from snowmelt or heavy rains, and melting glaciers. Their sources are typically fresh water at higher elevations that run down into lakes, and eventually oceans. Below their surfaces, rivers run even deeper than what is visible to the naked eye. Flowing river water actually, permeates the earth’s topsoil and courses through the gravels and mire found below the floodplain. In deeper and wider valleys, the amount of concealed water flow, shockingly enough, can actually surpass what is seen above ground. This process carries essential minerals and nutrients from the silt downstream where they will provide a satiating irrigation to the flora along the river’s path. Rivers regularly fork, and are also joined together with offshoot streams (from the same or other sources) known as tributaries. This greatly increases the irrigating effect across a much wider area in many different directions as currents split off. On the opposite end of the source of a river lies the mouth, or estuary, which is a delicate home to a myriad of creatures and plant life.
The importance of estuaries to the environment
Estuaries are often found where the river meets the sea. They are one of the most blooming habitats found in nature as there are an abundance and near-perfect balance of water & earth for plants to thrive on. When the plants die they are devoured by protozoa and other microorganisms. These microorganisms are fed on by small invertebrates such as mussels, shrimp, and worms. These invertebrates are fed on by fish, which are subsequently eaten by larger mammals and birds. Their extraordinarily diverse nature is also matched by their sheer numbers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are 102 estuaries in America with only 28 of those having been deemed nationally important by the federal government and the states they occur in. As a result, some of the estuaries not protected by federal and state laws have been harmed by draining, filling, damming, and dredging. Over time many estuaries have been drained to facilitate farming, while others have been filled in for the purpose of expanding urban zones or building shipping yards. Many estuaries around the world are tainted by pollution as well. They have become dumping grounds for the unwanted by-products of civilization. Efforts are being made to clean up & restore them, and you can also join in the fight!
How can you help improve the environment?
Conserve water around your home! When you conserve water it saves more for nearby estuaries. Be sure to fix leaks right away and use only what water is needed for day to day tasks.
Utilize non-toxic cleaner and dispose of hazardous materials properly. Anything you put down the drain will eventually make its way back to a watery habitat. Use them as sparingly as possible, or not at all.
Educational Field Trips in South Florida
Nature’s Academy is a nonprofit environmental education company in South Florida focusing on outdoor educational field trips in Florida.
For more information about how you can help the environment or to schedule an outdoor field trip in Florida click here. Alternatively, you can call us on 941.462.2162.