Don’t Drain the Swamp, #ReignTheSwamp

Biologists—not politicians and lobbyists—have taken to Twitter to call attention to animals that live in the world’s vital wetlands.
(Photo: Auscape/UIG via Getty Images)
Dec 7, 2016· 1 MIN READ
John R. Platt covers the environment, wildlife, and technology and for TakePart, Scientific American, Audubon, and other publications.

President-elect Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp.

Biologists on Twitter have a better idea: Celebrate the swamp. Since Sunday, scientists and other wildlife enthusiasts have flooded Twitter with images of amazing creatures and plants that live in the world’s swamps, including crocodiles, turtles, salamanders, birds, and majestic cypress trees.

Their hashtag? #ReignTheSwamp.

Much like the #PokeBlitz hashtag that used the popular Pokémon Go mobile game as a way to educate people about wildlife this past summer, #ReignTheSwamp has a specific goal in mind. “I am always on the lookout for popular hashtags that provide opportunities to engage people on environmental and conservation issues,” said David Steen, the biologist who got the swampy ball rolling. “I thought it would be fun to use #ReignTheSwamp as a play on words, while helping people to think about how some animals interact with their habitats.”

Steen, an assistant research professor with Auburn University Museum of Natural History, said he hopes the shared images will change the way people think about swamps. “The prior use of #DrainTheSwamp by politicians was negative and relied on people thinking of swamps as nasty places that provide little value,” he said. “In reality, swamps and other wetlands provide important habitats for many species and are of great conservation concern. Loss of wetlands to development is a huge problem in this country. I wanted to help turn the perception of swamps around and highlight all the cool creatures and plants that you can find in them.”

Although Steen studies species that live in swamps, he said he has been pleasantly surprised to see the images that other people have shared. “We have had people from all over the country as well as Canada and France join in so far,” he said. “I hope that will help folks get a global view of wetlands and the vital habitats they provide for both plants and animals.”

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Elise Bennett, reptile and amphibian staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said efforts such as #ReignTheSwamp help to create awareness about species the public may not normally think about. “Many wetland species in North America are on the path to extinction, and yet people know so little about them,” she said. “To see the yellow-chinned ‘grin’ of a Blanding’s turtle or the striking patterning of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake is to understand why it’s worth protecting these unique animals.”

Meanwhile, it’s not just animals being showcased in #ReignTheSwamp. “I have also enjoyed seeing some of the pictures people have provided of beautiful swamp landscapes, including gorgeous sunsets,” Steen said. “Swamps are so much more than muddy mosquito pits, and I hope we can help people appreciate these important parts of our wild landscapes.”