Urban development is an essential process for United States as our population increases and communities grow. The coastline in particular draws us with it’s aesthetic beauty and the economic potential created by bodies of water. We have a curious desire for waterfront property, and we are willing to pay top dollar for it. Coastlines can create vibrant and profitable communities – the San Francisco Bay Area is a perfect example.
Yet coastal urban development comes at a price that we are just now beginning to understand. Our coastlines are lined with wetlands, beautiful expanses of uniquely adapted plants and animals that play a vital ecological role. As the human population increases, the acreage of coastal wetlands decreases. A recent report has outlined how restoring our wetlands not only helps keep coastal ecosystems healthy, but also provides immense economic and social benefits for coastal communities. By investing money to protect and restore wetlands, we can create jobs and better help protect our own cities.
Kidneys of watersheds
The term wetlands encompasses everything we think of as a swamp, marsh, or bog. In the past we’ve regarded these muddy areas as wastelands, little more than a nuisance for urban development. Now we recognize how vitally important wetlands are for us. Wetlands efficiently filter water moving from land to sea, keeping it clean of pollutants and sediment, and improving overall water quality. This characteristic has earned them recognition as the kidneys of our coastal watersheds. They help keep coastal communities safe, acting as storm buffers and helping stabilize shorelines and control flooding. With our weather patterns increasing in frequency and intensity, we certainly need all the extra protection we can get!
Wetlands are also among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. They are home to a wide range of uniquely adapted plants and animals. Many commercially and recreationally important fish species spend their juvenile stages in wetlands, protected from large predators in the open ocean.
There is an important number to take notice of – 80,000. That’s the number of acres of wetlands that is eaten up by coastal development every year; the equivalent of seven football fields is disappearing every hour of every day. This is despite federal policy, put in place in 1989, that mandates there will be no net loss of wetlands in the United States. Even with federal policy in place, we are not acting to conserve our wetlands. Eighty thousand acres every year is a colossal net loss and shows that our system is suffering a massive failure in protecting these vital places.
A case for protecting wetlands
Just last month, a report was released by the Center for American Progress. Titled “The Economic Case for Restoring Coastal Ecosystems”, this report outlined the monetary value of Americans investing money in restoring wetlands. The results are astounding – for every $1 million invested in coastal restoration, 17.1 jobs were created on average. Each dollar invested returned more than $15 in net economic benefits. The factors examined were not just environmental, but also economic and social. They considered the benefits posed by buffering against storm surges, safeguarding coastal communities, soaking up carbon and other pollutants, creating nursery habitat for fish, and restoring open space that support recreation, tourism, and culture of coastal communities.
This report reveals the enormous gain from investing in coastal restoration. The lifetime benefits of a restored ecosystem are a powerful argument, and the purpose of the report is to influence resource managers. Not only should we focus on restoring wetlands, but we must establish a management system that will ensure the restored wetlands remain protected for the foreseeable future. These wetlands will continue to sustain jobs, maintain biodiversity, and protect our coastal communities, as long as we understand how to best conserve them.
By protecting and conserving the unique ecological places in our country, we are allowing our coastal communities to grow their economic potential. It is much to our profit for us to work towards harmony with nature. When we find the balance between taking from the environment and protecting it, we achieve an optimal system of profit vs. cost. When the investment we put into a project returns to us at least 15 fold, it is certain that it is a good investment. It is our hope that this report, along with growing recognition of the importance of wetlands, will persuade resource managers to take action to protect and restore our wetlands – and soon.
Beautiful and functional
A healthy wetland is beautiful, functional, and vibrant with life. Not only do they better protect us with storm-buffering and water-filtering capabilities, but they also protect our food supply and offer us gorgeous scenery. It is our responsibility to preserve these ecologically and economically important stretches of coastline. And with the cost-vs-benefit ratio demonstrated by this report, it is to our advantage to make certain restoration occurs. Help us support healthy ecosystems by buying your seafood from distributors that are committed to protecting the environment, such as Pucci Foods.