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Status and Trends of Coastal Wetlands



NOAA has authored a new report, Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004-2009,” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to the report’s findings, the coastal watersheds of the continental United States lost wetlands at an average rate of 80,000 acres a year from 2004-2009. That’s approximately seven football fields, every hour! It’s a 25 percent increase over the previous 6-year study period.

In the upper parts of coastal watersheds, stressors associated with development—both residential and infrastructure—were key factors in wetland loss.

The loss of these valuable wetlands threatens not only our nation’s sustainable fisheries and protected species, but our supply of clean water, and the stability of shorelines in the face of climate change. With almost half of the U.S. population now living in coastal counties, continued loss of coastal wetlands means less protection for those communities from strong storms, such as Superstorm Sandy.

Through the Habitat Blueprint, NOAA Fisheries is working across programs and with partner organizations to address the growing challenge of coastal and marine habitat loss and degradation.

What Are Coastal Wetlands?

More than just the salt marshes lining our bays and estuaries, coastal wetlands include all wetlands in coastal watersheds—the areas of lands from which water drains directly to the ocean—an estuary or bay. Coastal wetlands include:

  • Bottomland hardwood swamps
  • Fresh marshes
  • Seagrass beds
  • Mangrove swamps
  • Shrubby depressions known in the southeastern United States as “pocosins"

About 40 percent of the wetlands in the lower 48 states are coastal wetlands and approximately 81 percent of coastal wetlands in the continental United States are in the Southeast.

How Are You Connected to Coastal Wetlands?

If you love seafood you have a coastal wetland to thank for your favorite dish. Many kinds of fish from salmon to striped bass, as well as lobster, shrimp, oysters and crabs, depend on coastal wetlands for places to live, feed, or reproduce.

If you drive a car, cook, or heat your home you might be using oil or gas that traveled through coastal wetlands. Eighteen percent of U.S. oil production and almost 24 percent of U.S. natural gas production originates in, is transported through, or is processed in Louisiana coastal wetlands.

If you live near a river hundreds of miles from the coast the water flowing in that river most likely ends in a coastal wetland. Sometimes rivers contain impurities, such as excess fertilizer or pesticides, which can be filtered by coastal wetlands before they reach the ocean. Unfortunately, large amounts of impurities can overwhelm coastal wetlands, which can create problems for fish along the coast.

Why Are Coastal Wetlands Important?

Coastal wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth. More than half of commercially harvested fish in the United States depend on estuaries and nearby coastal waters at some stage in their life cycle. Coastal habitats provide spawning grounds, nurseries, shelter, and food for finfish, shellfish, birds, and other wildlife. The abundance and health of adult stocks of commercially harvested shrimp, blue crabs, oysters, and other species are directly related to the quality and quantity of wetlands.

The nation’s coastal resources also provide resting, feeding, and breeding habitat for 85 percent of waterfowl and other migratory birds, and nearly 45 percent of the nation’s endangered and threatened species are dependent on coastal habitats. Wetlands help improve surface water quality by filtering, storing, and detoxifying residential, agricultural, and urban wastes; they can also buffer coastal areas against storm and wave damage and help stabilize shorelines, increasingly important functions in the face of climate change. The economic value of coastal habitats is likely to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, if not more.