Around the Water Cooler: American Wetlands Month—and Your Dinner

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

ShrimpboatBayou country, located along the Gulf of Mexico, specifically Louisiana, has historically shaped the culture and the economy of the region. The Bayou—otherwise known as wetlands, swamps, or bogs—is an economic resource supporting commercial and sport fishing, hunting, recreation and agriculture.

Remember the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company? The shrimping business the fictional Forrest Gump started (and since inspired a real restaurant chain). Without clean and healthy wetlands, there’s no shrimping business, not in the movies and not in real life.

This month is American Wetlands Month and EPA is acknowledging the extensive benefits—or “ecosystem services”—that wetlands provide. From trapping floodwaters and recharging groundwater supplies to removing pollution and providing fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands improve water quality in nearby rivers, streams and lakes and even serve as a natural filter for our drinking water. They are the “kidneys” of our hydrologic cycle.

In Bayou Country, wetlands provide nearly all of the commercial catch and half the recreational harvest of fish and shellfish. They are extremely valuable to the region’s economy. Wetlands in the region provide the habitat for birds, alligators and crocodiles, muskrat, beaver, mink and a whole bunch of other important critters.

EPA researchers all over the country are looking at different ways to keep our wetlands clean and healthy. From nutrient pollution research and water quality research to buffers around rivers and stream habitat (“riparian zones”) and other green infrastructure efforts, scientists are ensuring that our wetlands can continue to do their work – providing a habitat, filtering out pollution, and supporting our economy.

This month, wherever you sit down to enjoy all the shrimp and seafood you can eat, remember that without healthy and clean wetlands, none of that would be possible.

For more information on how EPA scientists monitor and assess our wetlands, read here.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry loves clean water, healthy beaches and great seafood. A regular contributor to EPA’s It All Starts with Science blog, she helps communicate the great science in the Agency’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Program.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Wetlands All Around Me

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By Travis Loop

The moon lit up the marsh as my canoe glided across the water. In shallow sections, my paddle pushed against the bottom. Around me were frogs peeping, fish splashing and birds rustling. For a 13-year-old boy on a field trip, these Chesapeake Bay wetlands were a dramatic introduction to the remarkable area where the land meets the water.

Why are wetlands – often mucky and unattractive – remarkable? It is for their critical role in the ecosystem and in our communities. In many places I’ve been throughout my life I have found wetlands all around me… and discovered their importance.

When living in Wilmington, North Carolina, I saw how coastal wetlands and Carolina bays are vital habitat for wildlife, including the alligator peering at me while I kayaked in a swamp. Wetlands are diverse biological ecosystems and more than one-third of threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands. Migratory waterfowl use wetlands – especially prairie potholes in the Midwest – for resting, feeding or nesting. This is big business – about 2.3 million people annually hunt migratory birds, spending $1.8 billion dollars.

Now at EPA headquarters in Washington, colleagues say swamps, marshes and bogs are the kidneys for our nation’s waterways, filtering pollution and reducing sediment that would hurt downstream. For example, without the Congaree Bottomland Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina, a $5 million wastewater treatment plant would be needed.

During a trip to Louisiana I heard how wetlands function as natural sponges that trap water and lessen flooding. Wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained and there is more frequent flooding along the river.

I didn’t expect to find wetlands when living in Hawaii. Yet near my house on Oahu, wetlands were part of Ka’elepulu Pond. I’ve learned there are wetlands in unique places across the country – about 20 percent of wetlands (20 million acres) in the continental U.S. are not visibly connected to other waterways – as you would suspect wetlands to be – but may have groundwater connections and provide other benefits.

Sadly, many wetlands have already been lost or altered – more than half of the original wetland areas in the continental U.S. are gone. And near my home in Annapolis, Maryland, climate change is raising sea levels, slowly swallowing the wetlands of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

We need these wetlands around us.

About the author:  Travis Loop is the director of communications for EPA’s Office of Water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.