What is peat?
Peat is defined as a soil type containing at least 65% of organic matter. In the tropics, it is formed from decayed leaves, stems and roots of plants that have accumulated in a water-saturated environment in the absence of oxygen. The thickness of peat layer can accumulate up to 20m where the recent deposits remain as peat while earlier deposits transform over millions of years into lignite and coal. Besides, peat comprises of more than 90% water as well. This enables peatlands to have a unique ability to store large amounts of water. Forests formed on peat soils are called peat swamp forests.
How are peatlands important to us?
The importance of peatlands can be categorized into three groups:
Biodiversity: Peatlands are habitat for unique flora and fauna which contribute significantly to the gene pool. Endangered animals such as Tiger, Sun Bear, Asian Elephant, Proboscis Monkey etc. endemic to tropical peatlands. On the other hand, peat swamp forests have a relatively high diversity of tree species as well.
Carbon Storage: Peatlands are some of the more important carbon stores in the world as they are actively sequestering carbon. A healthy intact peat swamp forest actively accumulates carbon, offsetting to some extent carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Exploitation and degradation on peatlands lead to the release of carbon and global warming.
Water Regulator: Peatlands act as vast water reservoir to maintain water levels and help in flood control for communities and ecosystems downstream. They also play an essential role in the provision of drinking water for local communities.
What are the negative impacts if degradation on peatlands?
- Causes peat fire
- Affect ecosystem as the habitat for flora and fauna has degraded
- Causes environmental issues such as climate change and global warming
There are currently two rehabilitation projects on peatland forests which included APFP Project and SEA Peat Project.