Types of wetlands | WWF

Almost every country in the world possesses a wetland of some description. Some are seasonally aquatic, some seasonally terrestrial. All play a vital role for humans and nature alike.

Global wetlands montage. rel= © From left to right (clockwise): 1. WWF / Helena TELKÄNRANTA; 2. WWF / Martin HARVEY; 3. WWF / Hartmut JUNGIUS; 4. Frank PARHIZGAR / WWF-Canada; 5. WWF / Y.-J. REY-MILLET; 6. WWF / Martin HARVEY;


All shapes and sizes

Wetlands are highly productive ecosystems that provide the world with nearly two-thirds of its fish harvest.
They take many forms including marshes, estuaries, mudflats, mires, ponds, fens, pocosins, swamps, deltas, coral reefs, billabongs, lagoons, shallow seas, bogs, lakes, and floodplains.

There are also human-made wetlands such as fish and shrimp ponds, farm ponds, irrigated agricultural land, salt pans, reservoirs, gravel pits, sewage farms and canals.

There are many different ways of categorising wetlands, and numerous different types. Most large wetland areas are a unique mosaic of different wetland types. For example, within the The Kafue Flats are found grasslands, lagoons, marshes, swamps and reed beds.

Coastal Wetlands

Coastal wetlands  are found in the areas between land and open sea that are not influenced by rivers such as. shorelines, beaches, mangroves and coral reefs.

A good example are the mangrove swamps found in sheltered tropical coastal areas. The partly submerged roots of mangrove trees spread out beneath the water to trap sediment and prevent it being washed out to sea. Around 70% of tropical coastlines are mangrove-lined.

Some mangroves are strategically planted between land and sea to stabilise shores and to protect communities from violent storms and powerful waves. The result is an area of stillness and tranquillity where fish breed, wildlife takes refuge, and local people earn a living from occupations as diverse as charcoal burning and bee keeping.

Shallow lakes and ponds

These wetlands are areas of permanent or semi-permanent water with little flow. They include vernal ponds, spring pools, salt lakes and volcanic crater lakes. They are small, shallow, intermittently flooded depressions in grasslands or forests, and are often only wet in winter and early spring.

    © WWF / Terry DOMICO
Red mangroves, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.
© WWF / Terry DOMICO


Bogs are waterlogged peatlands in old lake basins or depressions in the landscape. Almost all water in bogs comes from rainfall. Bogs have specialised and unique flora that have evolved in their nutrient-poor and acidic conditions, including for example the carnivorous pitcher plant. As bogs are unsuitable for agriculture, forestry or development they offer an undisturbed habitat for a wide range of species, including moose, black bear, lynx, snowshoe hare and mink.

In addition, bogs are used by many species of migratory birds, providing a safe habitat in which to breed, rest and feed. A particular kind of bog is found on the coastal plain of the southeasteern United States. Pocosins are evergreen shrub bogs typically found on high areas of a flat water-logged landscape.
    © Michèle Dépraz / WWF
Peat bog in Fir trees forest. Alpine wetland in Wiegenalp, Hohe Tauern National Park, in the Austrian Alps. Austria
© Michèle Dépraz / WWF

Marshes and Swamps

Also known as palustrine wetlands, marshes, swamps and fens account for almost half of all wetlands throughout the world.

Marshes are one of the broadest categories of wetlands and in general harbour the greatest biological diversity. Marshes form in depressions in the landscape, as fringes around lakes, and along slow-flowing streams and rivers. Marshes are dominated by floating-leafed plants like water lillies and duckweed.

Marshes slow down the rate of rainfall drainage and control its flow into rivers, lakes, and streams.


The area where rivers meet the sea and water changes from fresh to salt can offer an extremely rich mix of biodiversity.

These wetlands include deltas, tidal mudflats and salt marshes. Mudflats and seagrass beds in particular provide a rich diet for many species of insects, birds, fish, turtles and other species.
    © WWF-Brazil/Zig KOCH
Wildlife and domestic animals coexist in the Pantanal - a Great White Egret, Pink-feathered Spoonbills, a Wood Stork and a Snowy Egret feed in the marshlands alongside grazing cattle
© WWF-Brazil/Zig KOCH

WWF's work

WWF works around the world to preserve wetlands, working in partnership with NGOs, local communities and across government borders.

It engages in a wide variety of projects to protect habitats and conserve these vital ecosystems.

Examples include:

Make a donation


Did you know?

  • The Ramsar Convention identifies a grand total of 42 different types of wetlands. It splits these into 3 broad categories: marine and coastal wetlands; inland wetlands; and manmade wetlands.

Ramsar 40th anniversary
© Ramsar 40th anniversary © Ramsar