According to the Environmental Protection Agency, coastal wetlands along the east coast of the United States are being destroyed at twice the rate at which they are being restored. Urban and rural development projects, exhaustive agricultural practices and the natural processes of erosion are all accelerating the depletion of wetlands and resources. Human activity combined with the natural progression of the environment has endangered the southeast region’s delicate ecosystems, wildlife, and water sources, making coastal wetland depletion a pressing and immediate environmental problem for the southeast.
Coastal wetlands are comprised of the saltwater and freshwater wetlands located within coastal watersheds. These ecosystems extend well beyond coastal regions into the mainlands of many states along the country’s east coast. Marshes, swamps, and estuaries extend into the country via waterways and provide essential water supplies and other services to hundreds of communities. Additionally, coastal wetlands provide important protection from flooding, control coastal erosion, serve as habitats for several endangered species, filter toxins from water before it is processed back to the sea, and absorb enormous amounts of dangerous carbon from the atmosphere. All of these processes are vital to a healthy and thriving coastal ecosystem. Furthermore, 50% of commercial fish in the southeast rely on coastal wetlands. Obviously, coastal wetlands provide enormous services to the public good in general, whether it be their essential role in the country’s economy or their part in protecting wildlife and the environment.
Despite these apparent benefits to society, coastal wetlands have been subjected to constant depletion and destruction for the past several decades. Between 2005 and 2009, an average of 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands have been lost each year, most it freshwater sources. These losses represent the most rapid period of depletion for these ecosystems. Additionally, over 50% of the country’s population lives in coastal regions around the country, meaning these regions will likely continue to be subjected to more human and urban development projects that damage the environment. More broadly, the general process of climate change has resulted in rising sea levels, which eventually could increase rates of coastal erosion and overtake important protections against flooding. The very future of these regions is at stake, and it is up to policy-makers, relevant environmental organizations and most importantly, community members to invoke meaningful change to protect these vital ecosystems in the southeast.
First, more responsible zoning, development and construction policies should be implemented to minimize the harm to coastal wetland ecosystems done by redevelopment projects. Additionally, illegal activities such as wetland filling and dredging should be more heavily monitored, and community members should actively report these violations to local authorities and relevant programs. Finally, local community members that live in or around coastal wetland regions should join environmental groups seeking to protect these regions, enlist in programs that work towards the restoration of these ecosystems and advocate on behalf of the environment in public spheres. The process of coastal wetland depletion won’t stop until communities step in and call attention to the vastly important role these ecosystems serve in our country.