Peatlands Around the World

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More than 180 countries are home to a special type of wetland called a peatland.

Peatlands are ecosystems made of the accumulation of thick layers of peat.

Today, we’ll explore just a few of these mysterious ecosystems to understand what makes them so unique— 

and why protecting them should be at the top of our list. 

Ready to go? 

Enter your name to begin. 

Welcome to the Peatlands Journey, {NAME}! 

Your first question is probably,  

what is “peat”?! 

Peat is decaying organic matter—dead plants that haven’t completely rotted yet— 

that may have formed over thousands of years. 

These peatland ecosystems play an unmatched role in regulating our climate, storing twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined!  

But carbon is not all that peatlands have in store. 

Let’s explore what makes the planet’s peatlands so diverse and unique.  

Choose a location on the map by clicking a pin.  

Visiting 4 or more peatlands will unlock a prize! 

Choose your first location

Welcome to the Indonesian Peatlands!  

Peatlands can be found throughout all of Indonesia, and they are arguably more vulnerable to human destruction than any other peatlands in the world.

In 2015, Indonesia faced one of its worst peat fires in history. And although the impacts of the fire are still being felt today, the country is making an effort to avoid future fires and restore degraded peatlands. 

Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

Chocolate Connection 

Part of what puts the Indonesian Peatlands at risk might actually be sitting in your pantry. Peatlands in Indonesia have been drained and converted to farm palm oil, which used to produce an array of common products like chocolate bars. Although there will always be new things to learn about peatlands, what stays constant is our need to use our voices for their sustainable management and protection. And this includes looking for products that are sustainably sourced and free from unsustainable palm oil.   

The Rush to Restore 

Indonesia is engaged in a massive peatland restoration effort, aiming to rewet or restore 1,000,000 hectares by the end of 2020. The country is embracing technology’s ability to aid in the effort, using crowd-sourced data to monitor peat fires and track restoration progress.  

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CIFOR

Welcome to the Ballynahone Bog!  

Filled with rare, captivating species and helping to regulate the climate and flooding, this peatland is a treasure trove of ecosystem services. 

Ben Hall

Species Spotlight

Glistening throughout the Ballynahone Bog is a species of moss called Sphagnum pulchrum, or, for those of us who can’t pronounce that, Golden Bog-Moss. This striking moss may be easily recognizable, but its rarity means you aren’t likely to spot it. Sphagnum mosses like this one are super-powered carbon capture machines. And with their unique physiology,\they can hold anywhere from 16–26 times its weight in water. Besides cleaning and storing water and carbon, they help keep soil healthy, which is essential for growing the vegetation that then fuels the rest of the food chain. No wonder they call it golden!  

Tina Claffey

Setting an Example 

Don’t get too excited about searching for the golden moss—Ballynahone Bog is a conservation area that does not allow public access. While it may seem like a harsh thing to do, this kind of measure can help preserve particularly delicate habitats so we can continue to enjoy their benefits for generations to come. 

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Tina Claffey

Welcome to the peatlands of the Ruogerai Plateau!  

These sedge-dominated lands store large amounts of water and supply it to other areas downstream. They also nurture rare and endangered species of the Himalayas, including the great Black-Headed Gull, the largest gull in the world!  

Past and Present

History shows us our actions can have environmental impacts that last hundreds of years. 5,000 years ago, when livestock grazing was introduced to the region, the peatlands fundamentally changed and became more vulnerable to erosion. This led to a pattern of overgrazing on the land that continues to this very day. In fact, the area of degraded peat has nearly doubled in the last 40 years. 

Broadcast China

Species Spotlight

This adorable, rare animal is called a plateua pika. Plateau may be tiny, but their role in their habitat is enormous—they help recycle nutrients in soil, providing food to predators such as foxes, weasels, falcons, Asia pole cats, upland buzzards, and owls. Today, there are only around 1,000 pikas left in the wild. 

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Welcome to the peatlands of England!  

Once symbolic, valuable sites for cultural rituals, much of England’s peatlands have been drained for grazing and agriculture. But even despite the damage that has been done to them, these ecosystems still harbor wildlife and perform natural services that benefit us humans. 

Natural England

Did you know?   

Rainforests are commonly assumed to be the world’s biggest carbon storers. But peatlands take the crown; estimates of the amount of carbon stored in England’s peatlands alone range from 3 to over 16 billion tons of carbon!  

Natural England

Species Spotlight

Meet the Swallowtail Butterfly, a stunning insect living its best, albeit short, life in England’s peatlands. When these little guys are mere caterpillars, they have a quirky way of protecting themselves from predators: by inflating an orange organ behind their heads called the osmeterium, giving off a pineapple odor and warning caterpillar-eaters to stay away!  

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Welcome to Słowiński National Park!  

This peatland ecosystem along the Baltic coast of Poland has been historically degraded by drainage and peat exploitation. But efforts are being made to restore its abilities to store carbon and regulate water levels. 

Did you know?  

There are over 260 bird species that thrive here in Slowinski National Park, making it a hub for bird diversity. And, of course, bird watching!  

Past and Present

Sometimes conservation efforts can have the full support of surrounding communities but still be hindered by actions from the past. Such is the case in Słowiński National Park, where draining ditches from the 19th century still allow water to flow into the Baltic Sea, drying out the peatlands and making them more susceptible to fires.  

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Welcome to the Agusan Marsh!  

This peatland is part of a protected area in the Philippines covering over 14,000 hectares. Agusan Marsh is home to some 1,332 species of birds, 112 species of ferns and plants, and 65 species of butterflies. 

Responsible Tourism 

Ecotourism may sound like a great thing, but it can disturb delicate ecosystems like the Agusan Marsh when not done responsibly. Here’s how you can make sure you observe natural areas in a way that benefits them, not harms them. 

Fun Fact

If the Agusan Marsh sounds familiar, it might be from the Guiness Book of World Records. The marsh was home to a famous fellow named “Lolong,” a 6.17-meters (19 feet)-long crocodile! 

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Welcome to Peninsula Mitre!  

This land, located on the westernmost part of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, is Argentina’s most important carbon sink, storing 315 million metric tons of carbon—more than three years of emissions from the entire country of Argentina.  

Tompkins Conservation

Did you know?   

While peatland ecosystems all share similar characteristics, not all types of peat absorb the same amount of carbon. Astelia pumila, prominent in Peninsula Mitre, is like the sponge champion of the world: it takes in more than four times the amount of carbon as other carbon-absorbing species. 

Tompkins Conservation

A Dangerous Introduction

Not all wildlife in the Peninsula Mitre is beneficial! Horses and cattle were left in the peninsula by ranchers who once used the land, and their powerful weight can trample the delicate peatlands. Beavers, which are not native to South America, build dams that divert water from its natural course, causing the peatlands to dry up. 

Tompkins Conservation

History Lesson

These peatlands started forming 18,000 years ago, during the Ice Age! As you can imagine, peatlands’ slow growth rate means they take a long time to recover once altered. That’s one of the reasons why their conservation must be prioritized. 

Tompkins Conservation

People of the Peatlands

Peninsula Mitre was once inhabited by hunter-gatherers later known as Haush or Manekenk. Today, a visitor to the peninsula might find arrowheads or other remnants of this culture, which was ultimately decimated by colonization. 

Tompkins Conservation

Seizing the Opportunity

Unlike peatlands in many places around the world, those of Peninsula Mitre still exist in a well-conserved, unfragmented state, meaning there is still time to protect them and ensure their long-term conservation. Grassroots organizations have been working to protect the peninsula for over 17 years. One of these organizations is Rewilding Argentina, a strategic partner of Tompkins Conservation, whose work on the project started in 2018. Through them, Tompkins Conservation is working for Peninsula Mitre and its surrounding waters to become a provincial park surrounded by a no-take marine protected area, a new destination for nature-based tourism, and an engine for local development at the tip of the South American continent. 

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Tompkins Conservation

Welcome to the Hudson Bay Lowlands!  

Located in Ontario and Manitoba, these peatlands are one of the largest complexes in the world.  

Hotel Hudson

The Hudson Bay Lowlands act like a hotel for migratory birds like the yellow rail and the snow geese. These species and others make a pit stop at the Lowlands during their migration route, looking for a place to rest and, of course, a free continental breakfast! 

Hot and Cold 

In Canada’s cold climate, warming of the planet can damage peatlands in two different ways: by drying the wet ones, and by thawing the frozen ones. This makes them more vulnerable to extreme fires which damage the peatland and release all the carbon it stores into the atmosphere.

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Welcome to the peatland ecosystem of Sweden!  

Sweden is rich with peatlands—they make up around 15% of its total land area. Unfortunately, they have been historically drained for timber production, but draining occurs far less today than in previous decades thanks to efforts made by the Swedish government. 

Peter Karlsson

Dead and Alive 

Sweden’s Store Mosse National Park has a hearty mixture of both living and dead shrubs and sedges. This includes species like Sphagnum Moss and Hare’s Tail Cottongrass, a flowering plant that looks like a cotton ball. 

The dead vegetation is what ultimately forms peat itself, paving way for a whole new life-filled ecosystem. For all the dead matter they contain, peatlands are pretty good at nurturing life!  

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Welcome to the Congo Basin Peatland Complex!  

Here, stretching across the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo is the Cuvette Centrale Peatland complex, it was only recently discovered that these peatlands likely make up the largest tropical peat area in the world!  

These pristine peatlands hold more than 30 gigatons of carbon – that’s equivalent to over 15 years of carbon dioxide emissions of the United States and similar to the above-ground carbon stock of the entire forests in Congo Basin.  

Wildlife Conservation Society

Species Spotlight

This adorable, almost human-like animal is a Bonobo, a spunky and stubborn species that is now at risk of extinction. 

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Wildlife Conservation Society

Welcome to the peatlands of Moscow, Russia! 

Nearly 8% of Russia is covered in peatlands.  

These important ecosystems house a dazzling variety of plants and animals, but among the most spectacular inhabitants are its many birds. 

 At the end of the breeding season, the population of swans, ducks, geese, and coots is as high as 90 million individuals!  

The Arctic on Fire 

When you think of Russia’s Siberia region, you probably think of cold winds and snow-capped mountains—not heat and fire. But Siberian peatlands made headlines in 2020 when they were set ablaze by a heat wave in the region, and because they emit toxic haze, that could exacerbate the symptoms of COVID and other respiratory diseases.  

NASA

Stuck in a Loop

Have you ever heard of a feedback loop?  

We can see one unfolding in Russia’s peatlands right now. 

When peatlands are drained or burned, say for agricultural conversion or forestry, that carbon they stored is released into the atmosphere, contributing to the ongoing warming of our planet. And as we know, warmer and drier conditions increase the instances of fires which further damage the peatlands—and the cycle repeats itself.  

Feedback loops like this one show us why it’s important to adopt a holistic approach to conservation—protecting not just individual species or even individual ecosystems, but all of the planet’s biodiversity and natural resources. 

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Welcome to the peatlands of Brazil!  

While Indonesia might be the most famous peatland hotspot, Brazil may actually be the world’s leader in tropical peatland area, with much of it occurring in the Amazon Basin of Southern Brazil. 

Working in Tandem 

Peatlands in Brazil have their own unique benefits, but they are crucial for preserving biodiversity in neighboring tropical forests as well. When a peatland is burned, the fire creates a toxic haze that can drift into nearby forests. Scientists found that bioacoustics—animal blabbering—is lessened in forests affected by toxic haze from peat fires. And while you might think nature is prized for its peace and quiet, quiet in the wild is not always a good thing! Bioacoustics are one way to determine whether an ecosystem is active and healthy.  

Listen to the sounds of Brazil's peatlands here:

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CONGRATULATIONS, {NAME}! 

You’ve visited some of the world’s many unique peatlands, and you’ve seen first-hand how they support wildlife and human communities.  

#WildForLife is rewarding explorers like you with the chance to win a video shout-out from their favorite celebrity champion. 

Enter your email address for your chance to win the prize, and let us know below which celebrity you’d like to receive a shout-out from! 

Once you’ve entered your information, be sure to head back to the map and visit more locations. 

You can also check out the #WildForLife homepage for more resources on the peatlands you’ve just seen. 




© Ben Hall.