US Coastal Wetlands Vanishing At Astonishing Rate Due To Human Development

Wetland’s rapid destruction is cause foralarm

By Kendra Pierre-Louis on November 24, 2013 10:21 PM EST

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/ NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/ NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service

America's wetlands are in serious trouble, according to a report issued jointly from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

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Between 2004 and 2009 the United States lost a total of 360,000 acres of coastal wetlands, an amount equal to roughly half the size of the state of Rhode Island and a rate equivalent to seven football fields an hour. Much of that loss has been along the Gulf of Mexico, where saltwater wetland losses have been linked to the havoc cause by severe coastal storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and Hurricane Ike in 2008. If those coastal wetlands had remained intact, the devastation in terms of life and property would have been less, some theorize. .

Prior to the 1960s wetlands were viewed primarily as places to drain or fill. In fact, Walt Disney World occupies an area of filled-in swampland, its location chosen because the land was cheap. Now we know that the wetlands — whether it's a bog, a swamp, or a pocosin — play a key role in supporting wildlife and the human populations that depend on them. Salmon, striped bass, lobster, shrimp, oysters, and crabs, all need coastal wetland to live, feed, and reproduce.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coastal wetlands "provide resting, feeding, and breeding habitat for 85 percent of waterfowl and other migratory birds, and nearly 45 percent of the nation's endangered and threatened species are dependent on coastal habitats." More than 50 percent of Southeastern United States' commercial fish and shellfish species rely on coastal wetlands. No wetlands, no fish, and no fishing industry.

In addition, wetlands are natural carbon sinks, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and helping to slow down global climate change. Most of the coastal wetland loss is happening among fresh water wetlands — ecosystems that play a key role in providing the water we drink.

What's causing this devastation? People. Specifically, human development along our nation's coastlines is putting unprecedented pressure on coastal wetlands.

Changes in population density in the conterminous United States from 1970 to 2010, Image Courtesy of NOAA/US Fish and Wildlife
Changes in population density in the conterminous United States from 1970 to 2010, Image Courtesy of NOAA/US Fish and Wildlife

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