New study shows U.S. losing coastal wetlands at alarming rate

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - The United States is losing coastal wetlands at an alarming rate. That's the finding of a new study done by NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The study also found the vast majority of wetlands loss in America is along the Gulf Coast. We're losing 80,000 acres of wetlands each year in this country.  That's up more than 33 percent from the 60,000 acres of annual wetlands loss during the previous study four years earlier.

"Data has shown, especially in the northern Gulf of Mexico, in Louisiana, the coastal wetlands have been losing, I think there's some data to show that in one day, like a football field. The rate is pretty high," said Dr. Wei Wu, an assistant professor at Gulf Coast Research Lab, who studies landscape ecology.

Some of the wetlands loss is natural, from storms and erosion. But manmade factors also contribute; things like water diversion.

"We don't have deposition, the annual deposition that we used to have historically to build the wetlands up. Now with water diversion, all that sediment is being channelized and being carried offshore," says Dr. Robert Leaf, whose area of study at GCRL is fisheries biology.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of healthy wetlands in this area is seafood. Wetlands serve as a unique nursery for shrimp, crabs and a variety of fish species. Healthy seafood is a product of healthy wetlands; which raises concern about losing them.

"Protection now more than ever. Because we're realizing that with a greater population, with greater demand on our natural resources, we have to protect the habitats that are contributing the most to those," said Dr. Leaf.

Regulating development along the immediate coastline is one way to mediate the manmade impact.

As for finding other ways to slow the tremendous loss of wetlands, that's a difficult issue.

"I think it's a really good question. We all want to know the answers, but I'm not sure I have the answer," said Dr. Wu, "There's a lot of research we need to do."

Dr. Wu says wetlands are actually studied far less than other upland habitats like forests or mountains.

Here's an interesting fact about wetlands: Though wetlands make-up less than 10 percent of the country's land area, they support 75 percent of our migratory birds and 80 percent of fish and shellfish.

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