Coastal Wetlands: Too Valuable to Lose
More than just a pretty view, wetlands are a pivotal part of the natural system, providing tremendous benefits for coastal communities. Coastal wetlands include all wetlands in coastal watersheds—the entire area from which tidal streams drain to the ocean or inland seas.
Look beyond the beauty of our coastal wetlands and you’ll find this habitat hard at work. Wetlands filter our water, protect our coastal communities from floods, and provide habitat for fish and other wildlife.
Our wetlands are quickly disappearing. With so much to lose, NOAA Fisheries is working hard to protect and restore our valuable and diminishing coastal wetlands.
A wetland is an area of land that is saturated with water, characterized by plants that can tolerate wet soils and low oxygen levels at their roots.
Coastal Wetland Types
- Salt marshes
- Freshwater marshes
- Seagrass beds
- Mangrove swamps
- Forested swamps
Benefits of Coastal Wetlands
Coastal Wetlands Boost Economy
Coastal wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems on Earth. They are crucial for healthy estuaries, which generate approximately half of commercially harvested seafood in the United States. In 2017, U.S. fisheries supported 1.74 million jobs (a 3.3 percent increase from 2016) and contributed $244.1 billion in sales (a 11.1 percent increase from 2016).
Our most recent study reveals that commercial fishing generated $170.3 billion in sales and provided 1.25 million jobs. Marine recreational fishing in the United States contributed 487,000 jobs to the nation’s economy, generating $73.8 billion in sales. Coastal communities that support these industries depend on their coastal waters for continued seafood production. The quantity and quality of our seafood is directly related to the quality and extent of wetland habitats.
Coastal Tourism is Big Business
A major economic driver for coastal communities, beach and coast visitors provide substantial tax revenue and job growth. More than a third of all U.S. adults hunt, fish, birdwatch, or photograph wildlife found in natural wetlands. Property values in waterfront neighborhoods can decline from 8 to 25 percent when water quality is damaged by nutrient and hazardous chemical pollution.
Wetlands Mean Cleaner Water
Development and agriculture contribute extra nutrients, pesticides, and silt to local rivers. Runoff from hard surfaces like concrete, asphalt, and rooftops is a leading cause of water pollution. Wetlands trap and filter these impurities, maintaining healthy rivers, bays and beaches.
Protection from Storms and Floods
Natural wetlands in coastal and riverine floodplains absorb floodwaters by acting as a natural sponge. Wetlands can lower overall flood heights, protecting people, property, infrastructure, and agriculture from devastating flood damages.
Conserving Coastal Blue Carbon
Salt marshes, seagrass beds, and mangroves play an important role in addressing climate change by removing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing them in plants and in the soil. Coastal blue carbon is the term used for carbon that is stored in these coastal habitats.
Efforts to conserve coastal habitats play an important role in preserving coastal blue carbon, preventing the release of carbon into the atmosphere, and reducing the effects of climate change.
Why Coastal Wetlands are Important
- 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 enjoy fishing, you’ll appreciate wetlands that provide spawning grounds, food, and safety for young fish. In 2014 anglers generated more than $100 billion in economic impact and supported 439,000 U.S. jobs.
- If you vacation on the coast, you’ll find wetlands throughout parks and natural areas, where you can explore history, nature, and recreation.
- If you own coastal property wetlands protect you by absorbing storms, floods, and high waves.They stabilize shorelines and prevent land from eroding.These storm damage services are valued at over $23 billion annual dollars.
- 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 25 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, even hundreds of miles from the coast, that river eventually flows into a coastal wetland. Rivers pick up excess fertilizer, pesticides, and sediment as they flow downstream. Plant life in healthy wetlands filters impurities before they reach the ocean. Unfortunately, high concentrations of pollution can overwhelm a wetlands’ capacity, leading to dead zones in once-productive waters.
Challenges for Coastal Wetlands
Human activities have significantly altered coastal and marine habitat over time. This degradation and loss of habitat has significant economic and social consequences. For example, habitat degradation and loss has reduced the size and diversity of fish populations, which in turn decreases opportunities for commercial and recreational fisheries. Human population continues to concentrate near the coasts, increasing the pressures on coastal and marine habitat.
According to a 2009 study, the coastal watersheds of the lower 48 states lose 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands each year to development, drainage, erosion, subsidence and sea-level rise. That’s approximately seven football fields every hour, and 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. This wetlands loss threatens our nation’s sustainable fisheries, rare and protected species, plus our supply of clean water, and the stability of shorelines in the face of storms, floods and tides.
As almost half of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties, continued loss of coastal wetlands means less protection for those communities from strong storms, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Some of the most dramatic coastal wetland loss is occurring in Louisiana. In the lifetime of a child born today, approximately 800,000 acres of Louisiana wetlands will disappear, pushing the coastline inland as much as 33 miles in some areas. Sea-level rise is a challenge for coastal wetlands everywhere. Using a conservative forecast of 1.5-foot sea-level rise, even more wetlands—an area equal in size to Pennsylvania—could be lost.
What We Do
Once valuable habitat is damaged or lost, it is costly to recover the benefits it provides. NOAA’s work sustains valuable coastal and marine habitats and the communities that depend on them.
Protecting Valuable Wetlands
Many coastal wetlands have been identified as “Essential Fish Habitat,” indicating an increased urgency and value in protecting these areas. Using our extensive scientific and management expertise, we provide recommendations to avoid, minimize, and compensate for the adverse effects of dredging, fill, and other actions that threaten healthy habitats.
Restoring Damaged Habitat
When a coastal wetland is lost or degraded by oil spills, invasive species, or decreased tidal or river flow, we help restore these valuable areas. The NOAA Restoration Center provides funding and technical assistance to communities that want to restore a wetland. We’re involved in large-scale wetland restorations in Louisiana, where the most dramatic coastal loss is occurring, and locally significant projects across the U.S.
Bringing Partners Together
We sponsor, fund, advise community-based projects involving state, local, and non-profit organizations. Our partners are essential to wetland restoration: they identify community needs, multiply our grant dollars, raise local awareness, bring volunteers, and often raise a substantial proportion of project funding.
What You Can Do
We can make decisions in our everyday lives which help preserve coastal wetland area and maintain their ecological integrity.
Get involved by joining a clean-up in your community and spread the word.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle your trash. One of the easiest ways to help the environment and reduce trash is to follow the 3 R’s every day. Bring a reusable bag or use a reusable water bottle. Compost. Donate clothes instead of throwing them away.
Install rain barrels and reduce urban and suburban runoff. Keep sidewalks, lawns and driveways clear of pet waste, trash, toxic chemicals, fertilizers, motor oil -- all of which can wash into storm drains end up in our wetlands.
Use paper and recycled products made from unbleached paper. Bleached paper contains toxic chemicals that can contaminate water.
Be smart about lawn and garden fertilizer: use a mulching mower, use non-nitrogen lawn supplements to avoid nutrient pollution. It promotes algae growth which creates aquatic dead zones and can be toxic to humans.
Use non-toxic products for household cleaning and lawn and garden care. Never spray lawn and garden chemicals outside on a windy day or when rain could wash the chemicals into waterways.
Choose native species when planting trees, shrubs and flowers, including wetland native plants where appropriate.
Do not fill wetlands when building a new home or developing a property.
Use "living shoreline" techniques at your waterfront property, making use of plant roots to stabilize soil.
Enjoy scenic and recreational access to coastal wetlands while preserving their integrity for future generations. Observe park trail and trash rules.
- What’s Wild in Our Wetlands?
- What You Need to Know About Wetlands ... In One Minute!
- Coastal Wetland Loss Analysis: Summary Findings of Pilot Studies Conducted by the Interagency Coastal Wetlands Working Group (PDF, 6 pages).
- Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States: 2004 to 2009 (PDF, 58 pages)
- Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Eastern United States: 1998 to 2004 (PDF, 36 pages)