The Value of Wetlands

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Once thought to be worthless areas, it is now known that wetlands provide food, flood protection, clean water, and other values.


Why are Wetlands Important?
Wetlands are important habitats that provide many beneficial services for people and for fish and wildlife. Some of these "ecological services" or functions, include protecting and improving water quality, providing fish and wildlife habitat, serving as a nursery for commercial fishery species, and protection from floodwaters.

 
Nature's Supermarket
Wetlands are like "biological supermarkets." They provide huge volumes of food that support many species. Many animals, including many commercial fisheries species, use wetlands for part of or all of their life-cycle. Dead plant leaves and stems break down in the water to form small particles of organic material called "detritus." This enriched material feeds the food web — small aquatic insects, shellfish and small fish that are food for larger predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. 
 
Flood Protection
Wetlands function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, snowmelt, groundwater, and flood waters. Trees, root mats and other wetland and waterside vegetation slow the speed of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over the floodplain. This combined water storage and braking action lowers flood heights and reduces erosion.  

Wetlands within and downstream of urban areas are especially valuable, counteracting the increased rate and volume of surface-water runoff from pavement and buildings. The holding capacity of wetlands helps clean water and control floods. Preserving and restoring wetlands combined with other water retention methods can often provide the level of flood control otherwise provided by expensive dredge operations and levees. The bottomland hardwood- riparian wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained.

 

Wetlands Support Our Natural Economy
Louisiana's coastal marshes and estuaries are tremendously valuable for their commercial fish and shellfish harvest — much of our commercial and game fish breed and raise their young in these habitats — including shrimp, oysters, crabs, and many fish species. In the Southeast, nearly all the commercial catch and over half of the recreational harvest are fish and shellfish that depend on estuary-coastal wetland habitat. 

Fish and Wildlife Habitat
In addition to marine species, Louisiana wetlands are habitats for fur-bearers like muskrat, beaver and mink, as well as reptiles such as alligators. More than one-third of the United States' threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands, and nearly half use wetlands at some point in their lives. Many other animals and plants depend on wetlands for survival. American Avocet_Bayou Sauvage150x118

Many bird populations — including ducks, geese, some raptors, wading birds, and many song-birds — feed, nest and raise their young in wetlands. Migratory waterfowl use coastal and inland wetlands as resting, feeding, breeding or nesting grounds for at least part of the year. Indeed, an international agreement to protect wetlands of international importance was developed because some species of migratory birds, including waterfowl, are completely dependent on certain wetlands and could not survive if those wetlands were destroyed.
 

Wetlands and People
Far from being useless places, wetlands provide values that no other ecosystem can. Water quality improvement, flood protection, shoreline erosion control, opportunities for recreation and nature appreciation, and commercial fisheries are all provided for our use at no cost. Protecting wetlands can and does protect our safety and welfare!