Diversity is the spice of life. Nowhere is this more apparent than where land and water meet. Whether it's a marsh or wooded swamp, the blending of terrestrial and aquatic environments creates a wetland - an ecosystem that often supports more life than either the land or water alone.
Two major groups of wetlands are found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: estuarine and palustrine. Estuarine wetlands are the marshes found mainly along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay and tidal portions of rivers. Palustrine wetlands are freshwater bogs, marshes and swamps bordering streams and rivers, filling isolated depressions or fringing lakes and ponds.
In the past, wetlands were regarded as wastelands. Because of this misguided notion, people filled or drained wetlands, which led to the rapid destruction of wetlands over the last 250 years.
But the appreciation for wetlands is growing. Ecologically, they are extremely productive areas and hot spots of biological diversity. Much of the Chesapeake Bay's wildlife depends on wetlands at some point or all of their lives. About 43 percent of the nation's endangered wildlife depends on wetlands for survival.
One third of all North American bird species depend on wetlands for food, shelter or breeding habitat. Coastal wetlands provide critical habitat for fish and thousands of smaller animals, including snails, mussels and tiny crustaceans.
Those who think wetlands are only important for wildlife need to think again.
Like to eat seafood? Roughly two-thirds of commercial fish and most shellfish use tidal wetlands as spawning and nursery areas. Wetlands also provide food and cover for blue crabs.
Care about clean water? Wetlands act as natural filters, trapping sediment and nutrients from upland runoff. Sediment can bury fish eggs and bottom-dwelling organisms and prevent light from reaching Bay grasses. Excessive nutrients trigger an overabundance of algae that, as they decompose, rob water of life-sustaining oxygen.
How about protecting one's home and property from flooding? Coastal wetlands absorb the impact of storm surges, stabilizing coastlines during major storm events. Fast-moving flood waters are slowed by the vegetation and temporarily stored in wetlands. The gradual release of this water reduces erosion and property damage.
Enjoy the outdoors? The Chesapeake Bay states' wetlands offer opportunities for boating, fishing, waterfowl hunting and wildlife watching. Plus, they have an intrinsic natural beauty all of their own.
And, outdoor recreation is big business. According to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 87.5 million U.S. residents fished, hunted or watched wildlife. They spent more than $122 billion pursuing their recreational activities, contributing to millions of jobs in industries and businesses that support wildlife-related recreation, many of which occur in wetlands.
Protecting and restoring wetlands is critical to restoring the ecology and economy of the Chesapeake Bay. This is accomplished by working with private landowners to protect wetlands on their property; restoring drained or altered wetlands on farmland and other private lands; removing invasive species that damage wetland ecosystems; and establishing wetlands and other outdoor education areas for schoolchildren and the public.
Between 1998 and 2010, 14,795 acres of tidal and non-tidal wetlands were established or re-established in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.