Wetlands are important, valuable areas we need for a balanced environment. There are waterlogged places all over our world that we label "wetlands." Issues about these places are popping up everywhere, in newspapers, on television, and on bumper stickers that show: "Save the Wetlands" and "No Wetlands, No Future!" What is all the fuss about? Aren't wetlands just bug infested, swampy, smelly, muddy wastelands? Many people throughout history have thought so. But fortunately people now realize and appreciate the value of these natural habitats.
Wetlands have been dredged, drained, built upon, used as trash dumps, and filled in for human habitation. In recent times, efforts to save, conserve, and restore these areas have been in full swing. Close to home, some research already has been done on the Florida Everglades, where they are spending millions of dollars to restore lost wetland habitats. The Red River Wetland Coalition in north Louisiana is busy protecting Bodcau Bayou, Loggy Bayou, and the Cannisnia Lake wetland habitats.
What is a wetland? Of course, it is wet land! Low lying areas between dry land and waterways are many times wetlands. Common types of wetlands are swamps, bogs, and marshes. There is a world of names for different types of wetlands: mire, fen, moor, prairie pothole, muskeg, slough, bottomland, playa lake, riparian wetland, and more! What makes all these areas wetlands is lots of water, special soil, and specialized plant life. From mangrove swamps to hardwood bottomlands, these three characteristics vary quite a bit.
The water can be fresh, salty, or brackish. Wetlands can be any shape or size, and they can be coastal or inland. They also can be seasonally wet, sometimes flooded, or always wet.
The soil is special in a wetland because of the abundance of water. The soil is saturated with it, so it is anaerobic (lacks oxygen). This is called hydric soil.
Special plant life lives in wetland habitats. Plants adapted to wet conditions are called hydrophytes. Adaptation helps specialized plants grow where there is little oxygen. Trees adapt to the soggy situation with features such as knees (root systems that poke above the water's surface) and buttresses or swollen bases that help to aerate the trees. Thus, we will study trees that look like bell bottom jeans!
Wading into Wetlands by Ranger Rick's Naturescope series explains that wetlands give our world many valuable "FREE SERVICES."
1. FLOOD BUSTERS: wetlands that help to control flooding like giant
shallow bowls where flood waters drain into. When man fills a wetland
area with concrete for neighborhood streets, houses, and shopping
centers, where do you think all the flood waters go?
2. SILT TRAPPERS: wetlands and wetland plants that trap sediment and
pollutants that are washed or flooded off of land. Caught in the
wetlands, these impurities are trapped and filtered so they will not
pollute rivers, streams, and groundwater.
3. STORM BREAKERS: wetlands that take punishment during storms.
Areas shielded by a wetland are more protected. This is especially
true in coastal areas where barrier islands protect the mainland from
high waves during ocean storms.
4. WILDLIFE WONDERS: Some say that in a healthy wetland habitat there
is more life acre for acre than any other type of habitat on earth.
Wetlands provide habitat for fish, birds, and many mammals. About
35% of all endangered or threatened species spend some phase of
their life in a wetland: wood storks, snail kites, whooping cranes,
and American alligators, to name just a few!
5. NURSERIES: many types of fish, crabs, shrimp, and other creatures
spend their early life in a wetland habitat before moving out into open
6. MIGRATION CELEBRATION: Migrating birds by the thousands use the
wetlands as a "refueling" and resting place. Spring and fall find ducks,
geese, egrets, sandpipers, plovers, ospreys, eagles, and more
seeking what they need to continue their journeys.
Boy, it is hard to stop talking about the wetland habitats! We have many more lessons to come. Please notice the scenes across the top of The Coastal Correspondent! CC likes to explain Louisiana's coastal wetlands by dividing them into 5 five interlocking habitats. The fringe, marsh, bays, barrier islands, and the deep blue (gulf) are his divisions. As we travel we will learn more about those particular areas.
Happy Holiday Time!