As America’s coastal cities expanded throughout the 19th century, the wetlands were often considered a nuisance that stood in the way of progress and development. Marshy areas seemed little more than endless founts of pesky insects or quagmires blocking access between drier uplands and navigable waters. As cities outgrew their dry land footprints and sought additional space to grow, the obvious answer was to simply turn the wet places into dry places. Today, these regions—from Boston’s Back Bay to New York’s Wall Street to Miami’s South Beach—comprise some of the most valuable real estate in the world.
We are increasingly learning the cost of losing landscapes once thought to be valueless. The wetlands ecosystem provided numerous services to society that we now are beginning to sorely miss. Sea levels continue to rise and the increasing frequency of extreme weather threatens our shores. Many of our commercial and recreational fisheries are struggling to rebuild to sustainable levels. Population growth continues to generate more pollution, including carbon dioxide. Coastal wetlands are perhaps nature’s most effective solution to these problems.
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