80,000 acres swallowed up
The United States has lost approximately 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands between 2004 and 2009 according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Much of this loss is blamed on development and has occurred in freshwater regions. Additionally, more than 70% of the loss is from the Gulf of Mexico. According to the EPA wetland loss in the eastern U.S. is happening at a rate double that of what is being restored.
In addition to development, causes for wetland loss include tree farming and powerful tropical storms, which overcome wetlands creating open water.
The EPA defines coastal wetlands as "salt marshes, bottomland hardwood swamps, fresh marshes, mangrove swamps, and shrubby depressions known in the southeast United States as 'pocosins.' Coastal wetlands cover about 40 million acres and make up 38 percent of the total wetland acreage in the conterminous United States. Eight-one percent of coastal wetlands in the conterminous United States are located in the Southeast."
Wetlands are integral to our ecological network. They support fish and wildlife, improve water quality through filtration and protect against erosion and flooding. Wetlands serve as an absorbent sponge for inland and coastal upstream communities. Flooding events and subsequent economic impact are minimized with the protection and restoration of wetland communities.
The EPA offers advice for wetlands:
1. Participate in programs that help protect and restore wetlands.
2. Report illegal actions including wetland fill or dredging activities to government authorities.
3. Dispose of litter properly. Keep surface areas that wash into storm drains clean from pet waste, toxic chemicals, fertilizers, and motor oil.
4. Use native species when planting trees, shrubs, and flowers to preserve the ecological balance.
5. If shorelines or riverbanks need to be stabilized, use "living shoreline" techniques that make use of plant roots for soil stabilization.
6. Avoid wetlands if you are expanding your house or installing a shed.
7. Use phosphate-free detergents as phosphates encourage algae growth, which suffocate aquatic life.
8. Use paper and recycled products made from unbleached paper. Bleached paper contains toxic chemicals that contaminate water.
9. Use non-toxic products for household use. Never spray lawn and garden chemicals outside on a windy day or on a day that it might rain and wash the chemicals into waterways.
10. Enjoy the scenic and recreational opportunities coastal wetlands offer; minimize the use of heavy equipment. Remain in designated visitor areas.
Read more at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Baby duck on lily pad image via Shutterstock.