Wetlands, as defined in the Clean Water Act under the EPA, are areas that are inundated or saturated by water often enough and long enough to support vegetation adapted for life in wet soils. Water can be present all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season. Wetlands are broadly divided into two categories: coastal (tidal, estuarine) and inland (non-tidal, freshwater); and many subtypes, such as swamps, marshes, bogs and fens, exist within these broad categories. In this month’s Top 10 with Tioga list, we’ll dive into what makes wetlands so special.
1. House many species.
Many creatures call wetland environments home. Some species of fish and amphibians will spend their entire life cycles in wetlands. For migratory birds, wetlands serve as locations for breeding and to raise their young. Also, many bat species reside in wetlands to feed off the large insect populations.
2. Create clean water.
As sediment, nutrients and excess chemicals flow off land, wetlands filter this runoff before it reaches open water. Nutrients are stored then absorbed by plants and other organisms, creating a natural filtration system that purifies our soon-to-be drinking water.
3. Absorb carbon dioxide.
All wetland types act as carbon sequestering systems or “carbon sinks.” Wetlands have the ability to store excess carbon dioxide, one of the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Because of this, wetlands are essential in the fight against climate change.
4. Treat wastewater.
Wetlands act as a natural wastewater treatment system as opposed to treating wastewater with expensive mechanical systems or introducing other chemicals into our waters. In fact, artificially constructed wetlands can be used to absorb nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater. Wetlands typically require lower maintenance and less supervision and specialization of personnel for local municipalities.
5. Provide protection from storms.
Wetlands in coastal regions provide protection from massive storm systems. But how? Wetland ecosystems consist of wide and tall walls of vegetation that can serve as a barrier between civilization and catastrophe. They can help slow down waves and absorb its impact energy. Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy made this apparent. Since then, countless studies have been conducted on the impact of wetlands in reducing the threat of storm surges.
6. Hold large amounts of water.
Wetlands act as sponges, absorbing vast quantities of water. Water levels in streams and rivers are kept higher during droughts and hot summers thanks to wetlands' gradual release of water. Because of this, wetlands are also beneficial in controlling flooding during storms and snow melts.
7. Host activities.
Wetlands provide amazing scenery for a wealth of outdoor activities. Kayaking, bird watching, paddling and hiking are just a few of the many options wetlands provide for you to enjoy nature. There are several opportunities to experience wetlands right here in the Mid-South!
8. Create jobs.
In 2015, the Office for Coastal Management reported that 56 million jobs are available in coastal regions. A study conducted by the Center for American Progress found that for every $1 million invested in coastal restoration, 17.1 jobs are created. Maintaining and restoring these wetland areas create jobs to sustain families and economies.
9. Mitigate a rising sea level.
It is estimated that by 2100, New York City could witness a sea level rise of up to six feet. According to New York City’s 2012 Wetlands Strategy, the area’s wetlands will provide a critical buffer for those living within this rapidly expanding flood zone.
10. Contribute to our resources.
Wetlands provide us with countless goods and products that we would not have otherwise. Several medicines we use today are developed from bark, leaves and fruits found in wetlands. Wetlands also have perfect growing conditions for certain crops like rice.
Wetlands play a crucial role in our ecosystem. Our team regularly consults clients with wetland and stream delineations, permits and restoration. Learn more about it here.