Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen peatland or water, temporary or permanent with water that is static or flowing, brackish or salty and marine water.
In Kenya, wetlands are defined as areas of land that are permanently or occasionally waterlogged with fresh, brackish, saline or marine water at a depth of six meters maximum.
Wetlands include swamps, marshes, bogs, shallow lakes, ox-bow lakes, river meanders, flood plains, riverbanks, lakeshores and seashores, estuaries, deltas, mudflats, mangroves, salt marshes, seagrass beds, and shallow reefs.
Globally wetlands occupy 6% of the earth surface and in Kenya; they cover about 4% of the land surface. When it rains heavily, the area fluctuates to 6% of the land surface since the distribution of wetlands in Kenya highly depends on the rainfall amount and landforms.
Wetlands are of great importance in Kenya, they provide many ecological and socio-economic goods and services. The wetlands have suffered degradation because of over-exploitation, pollution, encroachment, and lack of awareness about the importance of wetlands among the locals is a contributing factor to the degradation and loss of wetlands.
The introduction of alien species, high rates of deforestation and clearance of land for human settlement and agricultural activities have also contributed to the decline of the quality and function of wetlands. Clearance of vegetation has affected the hydrological cycles and reduced water capacity supply by the wetland. Alien species have affected the ecological balance of wetlands in the country. In Kiambu County where I live, there is a swamp called Ondiri, which is famous and located in Kikuyu town, it forms the headwaters of Nairobi River within the Athi drainage basin. Ondiri swamp has macrophytes growing on floating peat and farmers, learning institutions, hospitals, and civil society organizations surround it.
The swamp covers 30 hectares of land and lies 2000 meters above the sea level. The area slopes eastwards to around 1600 meters above the sea level with the wetland sitting approximately 10 meters below the general topography of the area.
Ondiri is a highland bog and draws interest from various stakeholders, for example, the local authority, farmers, private developers, and government departments. The swap is oval and over years of deforestation and subsequent erosion, the swamp is covered with the floating reeds on peat, which covers almost 95% of the wetland to form a quacking bog (a layer of vegetable floating on water) which is the only one in the country. People can walk on it but if you jump up and down, you sink.
The swamp is also a crucial breeding site for insects, crustacean, and amphibians, which in turn provide food for the breeding and migrating birds. The wetland gets its water through the northern end and discharges southwards into Nyangara River. It is served by three small streams and several small seasonal springs located at the edges of the wetland and runs off the neighbouring land.
Ondiri is the second deepest quacking bog in Africa after Doula in Cameroon. Despite this, it has been given scant attention from researchers, conservation organizations, media, and government, human activities like intensive agriculture, urbanization, and human settlement have led to the loss of ecosystem and disappearance of the plants, birds and other life forms associated with the wetland. Use of fertilizers and manures in the catchment has resulted in excessive growth of algae, which kills wetland organisms.
To conclude, since most wetlands occur in the rural areas of the country, there should be forms of extension services put in place to create awareness among the locals to promote sustainable wetland management and involvement of the community in conservation and management activities.