On Earth Day 2015, former President Obama visited Everglades National Park in Florida. He went there to highlight the incalculable value of wetlands to our nation, and the threat that climate change poses to them.
In the US, we have destroyed or degraded 50% of our wetlands – to development, misguided engineering projects, agriculture, and fossil fuel development. In some places like California, that percentage is as high as 90%. We are just beginning to understand the vital services that wetlands provide, and making the case for restoring them. Here are top ten benefits of wetlands:
- Wildlife Nursery. Because of its unique location between water and land, salt and freshwater, wetlands shelter more than one-third of the country’s threatened and endangered species, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Without wetlands, a huge number of songbirds, waterfowl, shellfish, mammals just wouldn’t exist.
- Flood Control. Wetlands function like a sponge, soaking up water that comes in with the tides, or from periodically flooding rivers. In fact, they control floods much more effectively and efficiently than any floodwall.
- Pollution Filter. If trees are the lungs of the planet, then wetlands are its kidneys. On the Rouge River near Detroit, Michigan, a wetland demonstration project showed significant reductions in nitrates, phosphorus, and heavy metals. Clean and plentiful drinking water depends on healthy wetlands.
- Storm Buffer. Scientists have estimated that every three miles of healthy wetlands could trim about one foot off a storm surge. For places like Louisiana, which have undergone tremendous erosion from oil and gas development and manmade levees, restoring and conserving wetlands is critical. In fact, wetlands provide $23.2 billion per year in storm protection services alone.
- Wind Buffer. A study co-authored by EarthShare member The Nature Conservancy showed that mangrove forests, which grow in wetlands and coastal areas, can reduce wind and swell waves, significantly; almost 100%, in fact, with 500 meters of forest!
- Fertile Farm Land. The staple diet of half the world’s population is rice, which grows in wetlands in many parts of the world. Many commercially important fish species, reeds and papyrus are also harvested in wetlands.
- Recreation and Tourism. Between bird watching, biking, hiking, and kayaking, wetlands provide people with many ways to enjoy nature. That’s why EarthShare California member Save the Bay is deploying thousands of volunteers to rehabilitate the wetlands around San Francisco.
- Carbon Sink. Because the soils found in wetlands can store carbon for hundreds of years, they play an important role in fighting climate change.
- Jobs Hub. US coastal regions provide 40% of the country’s employment: more than 69 million jobs in sectors like trade, hospitality, and commercial fishing. Restoring wetlands also provides many jobs. A study from the Center for American Progress found that for every $1 million invested in coastal restoration, 17.1 jobs were created.
- Sea Level Rise Mitigation. By 2100, New York City could witness sea level rise of up to six feet. For those living within this rapidly expanding flood zone, wetlands will provide a critical buffer. That’s why the city is supporting programs like MARSHES, a 68-acre “wetland mitigation bank” on Staten Island.
Wetlands Habitat Overview, World Wildlife Fund
Jobs and Dollars: Big Returns from Coastal Habitat Restoration, Restore America’s Estuaries
The Economic Values of the World’s Wetlands, World Wildlife Fund
Basic Facts About Wetlands, Defenders of Wildlife
Hurricanes and Wetlands, National Wildlife Federation