You probably don’t give wetlands a second thought, but you should. They’re one of the most valuable parts of our ecosystemand they’re disappearing almost faster than we can keep track.
Twenty-two states have lost at least 50 percent of their original wetlands, with the most being lost in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that between 2004 and 2009, coastal wetlands declined by 80,160 acres per year.
“It’s as if we have a best friend who is seriously ill with a treatable disease, and we refuse to help him, though we watch closely, each day, as he shakes with fever, begs for water, becomes unable to walk or stand,” lamented Field and Stream.
The U.S. EPA calls wetlands the “kidneys” of the landscape. That’s because they’re so effective at removing pollution and sediment from the water that flows through them, improving water quality, attracting wildlife and creating a beautiful place to relax and enjoy nature.
But those attributes seem to be no match for the logging, draining, filling and development going on to convert wetlands to plantations, suburbs, shopping malls and factories.
During American Wetlands Month, which is celebrated in May, I wanted to highlight nine valuable benefitswe will all lose if we continue to let wetlands be destroyed.
1) Seafood – “Wetlands are essential to fish and shellfish…and the health of the nation’s multi-billion dollar commercial and recreational fishing industries,” said March Schaefer, NOAA Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management. What’s at stake: crab, shrimp and lobster, making up nearly 80 percent of our fish and shellfish overall reports NOAA.
2) Ducks, Geese and Many Other Birds– Though wetlands comprise less than 10 percent of the nation’s land area, they support 75 percent of our migratory birds. If you enjoy watching geese migrate in spring and fall, along with other birds, you need to support wetlands.
3) Water Purification – Wetlands can absorb pollutants from surface water. They help trap sediment, too. As long as they’re not overwhelmed, wetlands act as a buffer between rivers and streams and the larger bodies of water they empty into.
4) Flood Protection – Wetlands protect coastlines after a storm by holding excess runoff after a storm, then releasing it slowly. Wetlands cannot prevent flooding, but they can lower the size of a flood surge, and by slowing its velocity. Think of a wetland as a giant sponge. It can hold much more water than other soil types, and for a longer period of time.
5)Groundwater Recharge – Underground aquifers that help provide our drinking water and nourish plants are refilled when water seeps into them through wetlands. During that process, the wetlands help filter the water, as well.
6) Frogs and Yes, Alligators – Many species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians rely on wetlands to breed, forage and nest. Wetland animals often cannot survive anywhere else. The high rate of wetlands loss has contributed to listing many animals species as threatened or endangered.
7) Photography and Art – Many beautiful photographs have been taken of wetlands and the animals and plants they support. Wetlands have inspired artists all over the world.
8) Canoeing and Kayaking – Because wetlands are usually so placid, they’re an ideal place to kayak, canoe and get uniquely close to nature. It takes very little skill to paddle a kayak in a wetland, making the sport available to everyone.
9) Places to Hunt and Birdwatch – Ironically, wetlands are ideal for birdwatching and hunting alike, though not at the same time. In fact, hunters are some of the most avid proponents of protecting wetlands because they have seen firsthand how destroying these ecosystems can threaten wildlife.
During the month of May, get out and explore wetlands near you. If you don’t know where any are, contact your state department of natural resources, or check the U.S. Fish & Wildlife website here.
Michigan Has Lost 40 Percent of Wetlands
Habitat Loss Threatens More than 90 Percent of Migratory Birds
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.
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9 Things You’ll Miss Without Wetlands