Interactive

It’s Easy Being Green: The Wonder of Wetlands

An interactive explains why wetlands are a vital part of our ecosystem and what we can do to keep them healthy.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

Wetlands are a vital link between land and water resources, but the United States has lost 52 percent of its wetlands since the 1600s. Wetlands are often drained and converted for other uses without regard to the key role they play in our ecosystem. To learn more about this role, scroll over parts of the picture below to understand how wetlands work and then check out the tips at the bottom to see how you can protect this vital part of our ecosystem.

People

A healthy wetland starts with people. Check out the tips at the bottom to find out how you can protect our nation’s wetlands.

Rivers and groundwater leading to wetlands

A watershed is an area where all of the water under or near it drains into the same place. In many places, wetlands serve as a watershed. The wastewater from homes, the car oil on the street, the sewage system—anything that touches the ground—gets into the water and drains into wetlands.

Wetlands

Wetlands improve the quality of surface and groundwater by filtering out pollutants and sediments. Healthy wetlands mean clean drinking and bathing water. Wetlands also provide recreational benefits such as boating and bird watching.

Plants and trees

Marsh plants, such as cattails, recycle gray water—the wastewater from a home’s sanitation equipment such as the shower or dishwasher, excluding the septic system. Wetland plants filter and recycle water through their roots. Commercially important products such as cranberries and rice can also be found in wetlands.

Animals

Wetlands are a resting place and feeding ground for wildlife. Several endangered species such as the snowy egret, the bobcat, and the silvery salamander find refuge in wetlands.

Stored water in wetlands

The saturated area beneath the water of a wetland, know as a peat, inhibits flooding by absorbing water from storms and releasing it over a time at rate streams can handle. The severe flooding of Hurricane Katrina has been linked to eroded marshlands. Taking care of wetlands could help protect us from natural disasters.

Streams that wetlands filter into

Much of the water we use in everyday life comes from a wetland stream. Through their natural water retention and filter processes, wetlands are a cost-effective alternative to dams and water treatment facilities.

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Not only can one person make a difference in wetland protection, but everyone has a responsibility to do so. According to the Environmental Protection Agency everyone lives in a watershed, so everyone is responsible for the health of our nation’s wetlands.

Take wetland protection into your own hands:

  • Limit your use of household products including paint, batteries, pesticides, and cleaners that create “household hazardous waste.” The chemicals can become part of the local runoff and harm plants and animals in wetlands.
  • Use native plants for landscaping. Native plants and flowers have already adapted to the soil and climate and don’t need extra fertilizer or watering.
  • Use the wetland’s resources wisely by conserving water. Take shorter showers and use rainwater to water plants instead of the hose.
  • Scoop the poop—letting your dog’s waste decompose and become runoff can contaminate wetlands.
  • Purchase federal duck stamps from the post office to support the government’s wetland acquisition and protection program.
  • Serve your community by participating in activities that protect and restore local watersheds. The EPA’s Adopt Your Watershed program has a database of activities such as volunteer water monitoring, stream cleanups, and storm drain marking.

For more on wetlands and wetland protection please see:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Wetland plants and habitat

Marsh plants that clean grey water

Threatened and endangered Illinois wetland species

Wetland habitat tour

Why protect wetlands?

Environmental problems worsened Hurricane Katrina’s impact

How to protect wetlands from pollution

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