National Wetlands Day
When you hear the word “wetlands,” you may think of a mucky, wet, mosquito-infested swamp or marsh. However, wetlands play a significant role in the protection of the place we call home, Louisiana. In honor of World Wetlands Day, QRI would like to highlight the beauties of Louisiana wetlands and educate people of its history, uses, importance, and current issues.
Over the past 6,000 years, Louisiana’s coastal wetlands have developed through a natural flood and sedimentation process. Although wetland areas consist of a small proportion of the total land in the United States, Louisiana makes up 40% of the country’s wetlands. Unfortunately, it also accounts for about 80% of the losses. Wetlands include swamps and marshes. Swamps are areas that holds water where woody vegetation resides including Louisiana’s state tree, the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). A marsh, is a harsh environment for species to grow and live in due to the saltwater tides. Only a few species can survive in the saltwater marshes. Because wetland ecosystems are featured by an array of extremely particular vegetation and animal life, they are among the most sensitive of ecosystems.
Wetlands serve a very important role acting as storm buffers and flood protection. Wetlands soak up and store extra runoff water after a storm like a sponge, keeping water levels stable and then gradually releasing it into a nearby stream or lake. The effectiveness of protection from storms depends on the size and type of wetland. Therefore, without wetlands, flooding and the risk of catastrophic loss of life and property from hurricanes and other storms would be more common.
According to USGS, Louisiana’s 3 million acres of wetlands are disappearing at the rate of about 75 square kilometers annually. Some of these damages are due to natural factors such as hurricanes, saltwater intrusions, subsidence, wave erosions, and sea level rise. Unfortunately, human activities during the last 200 years have been much more harmful. Activities such as dredging wetlands for canals or draining and filling for agriculture, grazing, or development are most responsible for increased coastal land loss. Prevention and reduction of wetland lost is a very difficult and costly process. As wetlands disappear, we face threatening consequences to the environment, culture and economy of Louisiana.
Wetland loss will directly affect (1) oil and natural gas production by exposing pipelines to more open water, wave force, storm flow, and water traffic which will cause the pipelines to become more susceptible to damage and spillage, (2) transportation and navigation by exposing more than 155 miles of waterways and several of the ports to open water within 50 years, (3) commercial fishing because 95% of all marine species in the Gulf of Mexico spend all or part of their lifecycle in wetlands and 66% of Gulf of Mexico sport and commercial fish species depend on coastal wetlands for survival, and lastly, (4) recreational activities because wetlands purify water by trapping sediment, pollutants and excess nutrients which is essential to ground water supply humans use for recreational purposes.
Perhaps next time you visit the murky swamps and marshes of Louisiana, you will think of wetlands in a more positive light. Despite their murky appearance, our wetlands are Louisiana’s water purifiers, flood protector, shoreline stabilizers, and homes for many important species in our ecosystem. QRI would like to take this time to appreciate Louisiana wetlands as an economically dynamic and beneficial area that plays many roles for the state and the entire nation altogether.
Laci Nguyen, Biologist