Report reveals continuing coastal wetlands losses in U.S.
The United States is losing wetlands in coastal watersheds at a significant rate, according to a new report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These wetlands are vital to the survival of diverse fish and wildlife species. Wetlands also help sustain the country’s multi-billion-dollar coastal fisheries and outdoor recreation industries, improve water quality and protect coastal communities from the effects of severe storms.
The report, Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009, which was also funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, tracked wetland loss on the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts, as well as the Great Lakes shorelines. It concludes that more than 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands are being lost on average each year, up from 60,000 acres lost per year during the previous study.
“Wetlands are important to our nation’s heritage, economy and wildlife – especially for our coastal communities,” said Secretary Jewell. “When a study shows that an area about twice the size of our nation’s capital is disappearing every year, it underscores the importance of strengthening our collective efforts to improve wetlands management, to reduce losses and to ensure coastal infrastructure and resources are protected.”
“Wetlands are essential to fish and shellfish, and are integral to the health of the nation’s multi-billion dollar commercial and recreational fishing industries,” said Mark Schaefer, NOAA Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management. “The three most valuable species that depend on habitats supported by our wetlands—crab, shrimp, and lobster—had a combined value of $1.6 billion in 2012. The disappearance of this habitat could be detrimental to our nation's seafood supply.”
Notable wetland losses were recorded along the Gulf Coast (257,150 acres) and accounted for 71 percent of the total estimated loss during the study period. The Atlantic Coast lost 111,960 acres and the Pacific Coast 5,220 acres. Although the losses along the Pacific Coast were small in comparison to the others, they represent an important component of coastal wetlands in this region, which has a predominantly high, rocky coastline. The watersheds of the Great Lakes region experienced a net gain in wetland area of an estimated 13,610 acres.