Making believers out of sceptics: Wetland’s Hidden Treasures
by Attish Kanhai
“What about the area in front of Five Islands Amusement park?” was the suggestion from a colleague as we planned our activities for World Wetlands month (February 2022).
“I don’t know, is there nice?” came my sceptical reply.
“Well there’s a lot of birds and the place is quite scenic,” was the subtle retort.
I remained unconvinced and with some trepidation, I prepared for a site visit. Granted it was five minutes away from the office and I am not much of a bird watcher, “How bad could it be?” I thought to myself. To my knowledge, much of the coastline in the western peninsula is not what I would consider scenic and thanks to my years of fieldwork, I had seen all of it, or so I thought.
After navigating the jogging/cycling track at the side of the road, I parked my vehicle and met up with my colleague, the bird- watching advocate. The last time I had visited this particular beach area was when my favourite fried chicken establishment was still around. I had no reason to come here again since its unfortunate fiery demise.
We walked along the concrete pathway parallel to the river outfall where a number of young and mature mangrove trees stood, almost defiantly, in stark contrast to the manmade structures either side of this miniature wetland. Nature’s resiliency should not be underestimated. Sure enough, a number of egrets, herons, black birds and other bird species made their abode in this strip of precious greenery.
“Okay fair enough it is quite serene,” I thought. The contrast of birds chirping against the backdrop of a main road a few metres away was not lost on me. I was, however, not ready to admit defeat. I had not yet seen anything that warranted a dissolution of my scepticism of this place’s dubious beauty. We continued down the pathway as the birds kept watchful eyes on our movements, ready to flee at the sign of any “funny business.” We were equally as wary of them as they were of us. Bird droppings on your clothes are never a welcome experience. As the concrete pathway gave way to a sandy underfoot track, the trees closed in overhead forming their own natural cathedral as we headed to the coastline. The chirping of birds melted away as the familiar sound of waves gently lapping against the shoreline made themselves known.
The mangroves cleared and I emerged onto the shore where the concerns of my not so inner sceptic were finally laid to rest. Stretching out before me was indeed one of the most scenic areas of the western peninsula. To the east lay the wreck of a derelict boat that could easily make its way onto an artist’s canvas, as the rays of the early morning sun slowly illuminated its once majestic bow and broken masts. I had walked into a painting. To the west, the shoreline formed the most picturesque arc for waves to play their own version of piggyback as they oscillated back and forth onto the sand. I can almost hear them giggling playfully as the never-ending game of oceanic tag continued, oblivious to my presence.
Peace, in the most unlikely of places, at least to my mind, on a Tuesday of all days! The aesthetic and intangible value of our coastal resources and wetland communities can easily be taken for granted. The serenity I experienced on this and other subsequent outings to this one area is priceless. How does one place a dollar value on your mental health and well-being?
The National Health Services in England spent £11.9 billion on mental health services in 2017/18 alone. However, there is growing consensus that traditional healthcare coupled with natural treatments will go a long way in alleviating mental health and general health concerns1.
Healthcare professionals are recognising the value of time spent in nature as a means of chronic disease prevention and improvement of overall health. Exposure to nature improves mental health by reducing stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Increased physical activity associated with time in nature also improves the immune system. There is still much research to be done on understanding the relationship between human health and the benefits of wetlands, as there is a tendency for wetlands to be overlooked when considering green spaces. This attitude is slowly changing. More and more the intangible value of wetlands is being recognised. However, nature is not only for those in ill health. Happier and healthier work forces can be associated with improvement of natural environments.
While I may not be a doctor, take some of my humble advice: spend some time in nature this week, ideally in a wetland. Take a break from the traffic and the grey concrete if you do not regularly do so. Even if you regularly do so, reward yourself a little extra in honour of World Wetlands month. Take a break from your phone as well, okay maybe take a few selfies and landscape photos to remind yourself that the world has much to offer, even in the most unexpected places that might be hiding right under your nose.
To quote the great Khalil Gibran: “Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Do not rob the Earth of your presence, it matters!