Once considered wastelands, wetlands are everything but that. They are complex, fragile and finite systems.
Wetlands are a valuable national treasure that must be protected so that their benefits can be utilized.
What are the benefits of wetlands? A number of beneficial functions of wetlands have been identified, these include:
Physical Protection – Wetlands protect shorelines from wave or storm erosion by breaking up wave and storm energy. They protect downstream areas from the damaging effects of floods. This happens by slowing and temporarily storing floodwaters, resulting in reduced peak flows.
Water Quality Enhancement – As polluted water flows through them, wetlands clean up the water by physically holding the pollutants to plants and bottom sediment and by chemical actions and reactions such as precipitation, breakdown and uptake. Basically they act as biological sewerage treatment plants.
Water Supply – In some areas wetlands serve as storage systems for groundwater. They store water during the wetter parts of the year and release it regularly. This helps to maintain constant stream flows.
Wildlife Habitat – Many species of fish and wildlife depend upon wetland areas as breeding, nesting, rearing, and wintering habitats. Significant portions of federally-listed threatened or endangered animals and plants depend upon wetlands to complete their life cycles.
Food Chain Support – Coastal and wetland areas are important basic food producers. Plant-derived food materials are flushed out to estuaries and other coastal and aquatic areas. This forms the basis of food webs, critical to commercial fisheries production.
Commercial Products – Wetlands are sources of fish and shellfish, furbearers, timber, forage, wild rice, cranberries, blueberries, and other useful materials.
Recreation and Aesthetics – Many people like to hunt and fish, study and photograph nature, go boating, and engage in other outdoor activities in and around wetlands. Other folks simply enjoy being around and taking in the natural beauty that wetland areas provide.
Climatic Influences – Wetlands may be an important part of the global cycles of nitrogen, sulfur, and carbon, especially methane and carbon dioxide, important “greenhouse” gases. Thus, wetlands may actually help control air pollution by removing some of the nitrogen and carbon compounds that are produced through man’s activities.
Some of the services that wetlands provide, such as providing habitat for endangered species, are irreplaceable. Others can be replaced, but a great expense to the public and private sectors.
We can purify polluted waters by treating them in large expensive facilities.
Shorelines can be protected by bulkheads or rip rap.
Increased flood and storm damages could be covered by increased insurance premiums.
Hunting and fishing could be replaced by other forms of recreation.
Yes, these things could be replaced, should our wetlands not be properly protected … but at what cost?
We’ve still got a lot to learn about wetland functions and values and the importance of wetlands to our environmental health and quality of life. Many new challenges lie ahead. Hopefully, our renewed commitment to wetlands protection and restoration will assure the continued generation of the many values and benefits that they provide.
So, remember … just as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, one generation’s perceived wasteland is another generation’s acknowledged national treasure – our wetlands!
Alan Matherne is the LSU AgCenter / Louisiana Sea Grant Coastal, Fisheries, & Wildlife Outreach Specialist for Terrebonne, Lafourche, and Assumption parishes. He can be contacted at 985-873-6495 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles and blogs are posted at bayoulog.com. You can "Friend" him on Facebook at facebook.com/alan.matherne and follow his "Tweets" on Twitter at twitter.com/amatherne.
Posted on Fri, January 31, 2014