When the planners of Putrajaya decided to build the city around a network of man-made lakes, they knew an efficient filtering system to prevent the lakes from becoming polluted and stagnant would be needed.
Rather than opt for an artificial filtration system, a freshwater wetlands ecosystem was created, said to be the largest in the tropics.
Started in 1997, the wetlands project covers 197 hectares of what was once an oil palm plantation.
The wetlands perform three vital functions:
Flood mitigation. Storm water is retained and spread out over a wide, flat area.
Water filtration. The urban run-off is intercepted and filtered through a series of catchment cells, where marsh plants trap sediment and pollutants.
Toxic substances such as pesticides, herbicides and metals are removed through complex bacterial and chemical processes.
It could be said the wetlands act as the kidneys of Putrajaya.
Habitat creation. The resulting filtered water has become a functioning wetland, providing a home to various plants and organisms that form the base of the food chain, sustaining a strong biodiversity of invertebrates, frogs, reptiles, fish and water birds.
The wetlands ensure that Putrajaya’s lakes remain clean and full of wildlife and the area has become a popular eco-tourism destination.
The Nature Interpretation Centre is a mini-museum that explains how wetlands work and introduces the flora and fauna found in the park.
On a weekday, visitors would probably have the place to themselves, indeed, at almost any time park visitors are usually outnumbered by the gardening staff.
From the main Information Centre it is possible to rent a bike and a set of binoculars or take a tram ride round the park. There is a small fee for these but entrance to the park itself is free.
The look-out tower offers a good view of the whole area and the nearby flamingo pond has sheltered areas for picnics.
Other birds that make the wetlands their home include night herons, cattle egrets, purple herons, grey herons, black crown neck herons, painted storks, green herons and cinnamon bitterns.
The herons often perch on the lamp posts outside Taman Wetlands, no doubt hoping to spot a tasty fish in the lake.
There is a tunnel underneath the road that takes one to a field, which can be booked for large functions such as weddings. In fact, the whole of Taman Wetlands can be booked for functions.
Near the field is a path through a bamboo forest where a troupe of shy monkeys make their home. This path leads back to the Nature Interpretation Centre.
The Water Recreation Centre is separate, across a road bridge, from the main park where kayaks, canoes, paddle boats and rowboats are available for rent. On the main lake (not the protected wetland cells), fishing and barbecues are also allowed.
This article first appeared in Malaysia Traveller.