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May 17, 2013

What is Destroying Our Wetlands?

Atchafalaya Basin
Human activities cause wetland degradation and loss by changing water quality, quantity, and flow rates; increasing pollutant inputs; and changing species composition as a result of disturbance and the introduction of nonnative species. Common human activities that cause degradation include the following:
Hydrological Alterations.
A wetland's characteristics evolve when hydrological conditions cause the water table to saturate or inundate the soil for a certain amount of time each year. Any change in hydrology can significantly alter the soil chemistry and plant and animal communities. Common hydrological alterations in wetland areas include:
  • Deposition of fill material for development.
  • Drainage for development, farming, and mosquito control.
  • Dredging and stream channelization for navigation, development, and flood control.
  • Diking and damming to form ponds and lakes.
  • Diversion of flow to or from wetlands.
  • Addition of impervious surfaces in the watershed, thereby increasing water and pollutant runoff into wetlands.
Pollution Inputs.
Although wetlands are capable of absorbing pollutants from the surface water, there is limit to their capacity to do so. The primary pollutants causing wetland degradation are sediment, fertilizer, human sewage, animal waste, road salts, pesticides, heavy metals, and selenium. Pollutants can originate from many sources, including:
  • Runoff from urban, agricultural, silvicultural, and mining areas.
  • Air pollution from cars, factories, and power plants.
  • Old landfills and dumps that leak toxic substances.
  • Marinas, where boats increase turbidity and release pollutants.
Vegetation Damage.
Wetland plants are susceptible to degradation if subjected to hydrological changes and pollution inputs. Other activities that can impair wetland vegetation include:
  • Grazing by domestic animals.
  • Introduction of nonnative plants that compete with natives.
  • Removal of vegetation for peat mining.
"It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself."

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