Wetland Wonders at Ocean Commotion

Can you figure out the mystery coastal item based on the following clues? It contains a bivalve that a) makes pearls, b) is a filter feeder, and c) we eat here in Louisiana.

Over 1600 elementary and middle school students had the chance to read those clues at LSU Sea Grant’s Ocean Commotion on October 24 in Baton Rouge. Students, teachers, and chaperones then reached their hands into a box and tried to identify the item (oyster shell) they were holding. Other mystery items included a nutria pelt, cypress knees, an apple snail shell, and a magnolia seed pod- all from plants and animals that call Louisiana’s coastal wetlands home.

2017 marks the 20th Anniversary of Ocean Commotion, an annual event meant to give students the chance to get up close and personal with coastal and sea life and the challenges facing those environments. This year 70 exhibitors taught students about topics as diverse as boating safety, mosquito control, and microplastics. CWPPRA outreach staff talked with students about the diversity of species found in Louisiana’s wetlands and the challenges of invasive species, giving students an opportunity to think about how different species impact ecosystems in different ways.

 

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National Estuaries Week

On August 3, 2017, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution designating the week of September 16th through September 23rd as National Estuaries Week.

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Over 100 million people nationwide live near estuaries and use these resources in their daily lives through agriculture, tourism, commercial fishing, power generation, and as shipping ports. Estuaries, where the river mouths meet the ocean, are where fresh and saltwater mix.  One of the most expansive and productive estuaries in the world is located in the United States at the interface of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Along with providing jobs, estuaries have one of the highest productivity rates among ecosystems in the world. Estuaries serve as habitat for fish, waterfowl, and a variety of other wildlife by providing food and shelter during migration and mating season.

Estuaries are a well-known hotspot for recreational fishing. Take part in celebrating National Estuaries Week by reeling in a big catch while helping to keep your estuary areas clean of trash and healthy for the wildlife and vegetation. Visit our friends over at the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program for a list of activities and ways you can participate in National Estuaries Week.

Wetlands around the World

Let’s take a brief glance at wetlands around the world. Wetlands exist in many climates and on every continent except Antarctica. Considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems, wetlands provide habitat for an array of water, land, and migratory bird species. The wetlands highlighted include swamps, bogs, marshes, estuaries, floodplains, lakes and many other types.

The Pantanal

The Pantanal is located in the heart of South America and is the world’s largest wetland that has not been significantly modified by humans. The Pantanal is often referred to as South America’s biggest biodiversity star stretching across Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Its complex system of marshlands, floodplains, lagoons and interconnected drainage lines is home to over 4,700 species of plants and animals. The array of life in the Pantanal relies on an annual flooding cycle. The cycle of waters rising and then receding through the dry season nurtures a biologically diverse group of plants and is essential to preserve a healthy ecosystem.

Camargue

The Camargue, also referred to as the Rhone River Delta, is an alluvial plain located in the Southeast of France. Roughly a third of the Camargue wetlands are either lakes or marsh. This wetland is one of the most highly rated places in Europe for birdwatching. The area is historically famous for the greater flamingo and Camargue’s horses. If you are enticed to visit the Camargue, be sure to look into horseback riding on this special breed of horses.

Kafue Flats

Located in central Zambia, the Kafue flats consist of a unique variety of wetland types. The landscape located along the Kafue River includes grasslands, lagoons, swamps and marshes. This wetland is extremely important to Zambia for hosting wildlife, fishing, sugarcane farming and the production of hydro-electric power. Within the Kafue National Park you can spot a number of safari camps and lodges that have brought new interest to the area and attract many tourists.

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Sundarbans

The meaning of “Sundarbans” is beautiful forests, which perfectly fits the name for the largest mangrove forest in the world. The region is also home to Sundari trees growing in salty coastal waters. These are a special kind of mangrove tree with roots called pneumatophores that emerge above the ground and aid in gaseous exchange. Along with serving as home to Sundari trees, this wetland region has possibly the largest population of Bengal tigers in the world. These tigers can be found swimming in the saline waters of this unique habitat in the same areas used by people.

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Freshwater Wetlands

Freshwater habitats come in many forms ranging from glaciers to lakes, rivers, and wetlands. These freshwater ecosystems represent less than one percent of the planet’s surface while supporting over 100,000 species including but not limited to fish, frogs, worms, crawfish, and birds and mammals nesting and feeding in wetland vegetation. While serving as habitat for a large number of animals, freshwater wetlands are also home to a variety of plant types. Cattails are a common sight around freshwater lakes and marshes and help in maintaining a healthy ecosystem by filtering runoff as it flows into lakes and serving as a protectant against shoreline erosion. Floating plants, such as duckweed, are a favorite food for many ducks and geese that populate the area.

Freshwater wetlands may stay wet year-round or evaporate during the dry season. Freshwater habitats are some of the most endangered habitats in the world. Human development, agriculture, and pollution are leading factors that put the availability of freshwater at risk. Saltwater intrusion is another underlying factor interrupting the natural conditions of water quality. These impacts have extreme consequences for our freshwater biodiversity, economy, and our well-being. Louisiana’s freshwater wetlands along the coast and other areas are disappearing at a high rate. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act implements projects in an effort to preserve freshwater ecosystems.

 

Benefits of Wetlands

Wetlands have long been considered an obstruction to development. Nearly a century ago, it was believed that wetlands did not provide substantial benefits to the environment and were deemed worthless. Wetlands were drained or filled to make room for further development, such as roads and homes. Today, scientists recognize the environmental benefits that wetlands provide and are encouraging us to preserve this environmental resource. Although we are still losing wetlands, our improved understanding of this dynamic ecosystem and the benefits it provides seems to be contributing to a decreasing loss of wetlands.

Wetlands are valuable in the fact that they provide water purification, flood protection, erosion control, groundwater recharge and discharge, and streamflow maintenance. Along with these benefits, wetlands provide habitat for a large percentage of threatened and endangered species, as well as fish and other wildlife. How a particular wetland functions and benefits the environment depends on its location and type. Wetlands take many forms including marshes, estuaries, bogs, lakes, coral reefs, and floodplains, just to name a few. Wetlands also provide recreational benefits, such as fishing, birding, nature photography, hiking, and kayaking. If you are feeling anxious to seek outdoor activity, look no further than the wetlands near you.

A partially filled or otherwise damaged wetland only reaches its minimal potential to provide all of these environmental benefits. If we want wetlands to continue to perform their ecological functions to the best of their ability, we have to protect them. Take action to help preserve one of the most biologically diverse but undervalued ecosystems.

 

Wetland Biome

Fun Fact:

Animal diversity in the wetland biome is greater than in any other biome type.

Wetland biomes are the perfect place for a variety of plants and animals to thrive due to the climate, food availability, and shelter provided. Amphibians and reptiles do particularly well in this environment. Some reptiles, such as turtles, need wetlands because they either live in water for much of their lives or largely rely on water for their survival. Wetlands support a variety of animals that provide plentiful food sources for reptiles. Snakes spend time around rivers and wetlands where there are food sources such as frogs and bird eggs.

 

Other species that populate the wetland biome are birds. Wetlands are an important habitat for birds that are breeding, nesting, and rearing young, and some bird species, stop to feed in wetlands along their migration route. The value of a wetland to a specific bird species is dependent upon the presence of surface water and the duration and timing of flooding, for example great egrets may nest in trees above water for protection from predators. The geographic location of a wetland also determines how and when birds will use it.

 

Alligators and crocodiles are the largest animals found in the wetland biome. The type of water found will strongly affect the types of life that survive there. When salt is present in the water, you might find shrimp and shellfish which are some of the smallest wetland animals.

World Oceans Day

Oceans are often seen as the blood of our planet. Oceans flow over nearly three-quarters of the planet, providing 97% of the Earth’s water. Not only are oceans a home to an array of marine wildlife, they create a livable environment for land-bearing organisms like humans. Even though most people do not venture far beyond the coast, the open ocean produces a massive scope of goods and services that are a fundamental part of our health, economies, and even our weather.

Marine fisheries, shipping routes, oxygen, carbon dioxide sinks, temperature, weather control, and the water cycle are all provided by the ocean and are essential to a functioning world. Ocean-based businesses contribute more than $500 billion to the world’s economy and approximately half of the world’s population resides in the coastal zone. Oceans supply food, transportation, jobs, and products that aid in keeping people warm, safe, informed, and entertained. Around 90% of all trade between countries is carried by ship. If the ocean cannot produce it, it can at least transport the goods.

Tomorrow, June 8th, people from around the world will join together in celebration to honor, help protect, and conserve the world’s oceans. The theme for this year’s World Oceans Day is “Our Oceans, Our Future.” What a suiting theme! Regardless of our distance from the ocean, our lives are still highly affected by the health of Earth’s oceans. Oceans generate most of the oxygen that we breathe, provide food for us, regulate our climate, and clean the water that we drink. Without maintaining healthy oceans, our future will be affected dramatically.

Celebrate World Oceans Day by adopting the practice of appreciating our oceans through plastic pollution prevention and cleaning the ocean of marine litter. Take care of the oceans that give so much to us in return!

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