Wetlands at a tipping point, coastal wetlands vulnerable

Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009.

courtesy of Lisa Brown

The latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) report documenting the losses and gains in wetland acreage came out earlier this month.  Commenting on the study’s findings, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said:

“Wetlands are at a tipping point.  While we have made great strides in conserving and restoring wetlands since the 1950s…we remain on a downward trend that is alarming.  This report…should serve as a call to action to renew our focus on conservation and restoration efforts.”


Although the rate of total wetland gain (from restoration) increased 17% from the previous study (1998-2004), the rate of total wetland loss increased 140%.  This resulted in a net wetland loss of approximately 62,300 acres between 2004 and 2009.  Notable among the wetland types that experienced heavy losses in the conterminous U.S. recently were coastal wetlands, specifically estuarine intertidal emergent wetlands, which experienced a loss of 111,500 acres or 2.8%.  These wetlands underwent the highest percentage loss in the entire study, and the losses were three times greater than during the previous study period.  Interestingly, less than 1% of these estuarine losses are attributed to direct anthropogenic activity (Section 404 of the Clean Water Act in addition to state regulations protect them from being filled) while 99% are attributed to physical processes such as coastal storms, land subsidence, and sea-level rise.

These alarming trends highlight the importance of coastal wetlands restoration.

Woods Hole Group has been fortunate to have supported a number of salt marsh restoration projects, both large and small.  These restoration efforts provide important habitat for birds and fish, control invasive plant species, rebuild shellfish beds and restore natural flows of water throughout the system.  We are currently partnered with Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration to support wetlands restoration projects throughout the state.

A sampling of our wetlands restoration work:

  • 10,000 acres and counting for Delaware Bay Estuary Enhancement Program
  • 1,000 acres of salt marsh restoration in progress at Herring River in Welfleet, MA
  • 17 acres of wetland and historic herring run restoration completed on Stony Brook in Brewster, MA
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