Located in the heart of South America is the world’s largest wetland that has not been significantly modified by humans, the Pantanal. The Pantanal is often referred to as South America’s biggest biodiversity star. However, it is also one of the continent’s best-kept secrets, often overshadowed by the Amazon Rainforest. This massive wetland covers an area estimated at 75,000 square miles across Bolivia, Paraguay, and (mostly) Brazil. The Pantanal is home to over 4,700 species of plants and animals.
The array of life in the Pantanal relies on an annual flooding cycle. When it rains, about 80 percent of the floodplain is submerged underwater; throughout the dry season the water lessens. This process is essential to nurturing a biologically diverse collection of plants and providing nutrients that the wetlands need to flourish. An area that is the size of Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, and Portugal combined needs a lot of water to guarantee that it continues to flood and a healthy ecosystem is preserved. The quality of the water is also important to maintaining a nourishing environment. Recently, human activity has been threatening this precious wetland. The Pantanal is threatened by intensive farming, deforestation, and pollution. Few signs of this situation improving are shown, and environmental issues are difficult to resolve quickly. Conservation of the biodiversity and natural resources of the Pantanal is essential.
On May 23, we celebrated the 17th annual World Turtle Day sponsored by American Tortoise Rescue. This nonprofit organization was established in 1990 to protect all species of tortoises and turtles. They created World Turtle Day to serve as an annual observance of protecting tortoises and turtles around the world and their disappearing habitats. Wetlands that serve as habitat for turtles include shallow fresh waters, pelagic salt waters, and heavily and scarcely vegetated areas. Various species of turtles reside in every type of wetland environment.
Did You Know?
- The majority of turtles that you see on the road are females traveling to their annual nesting sites.
- Turtles like to eat dead material lying on the bottom of ponds, lakes, and wetlands. Turtles keep the water clean!
- Snapping turtles rarely snap at humans in water. They do not like the way people smell or taste.
- If you are helping a turtle cross the road, be sure to move the turtle in the same direction it was originally headed. DO NOT turn it back around! It is likely it will try to cross the road again.
- If you touch a turtle, it is important that you wash your hands thoroughly. Turtles may carry salmonella.
How to Protect Turtles?
- Avoid walking or driving on sandy areas where turtles are nesting.
- Create a “no wake zone” to reduce damage to shoreline wetland habitats and stop the removal of plant materials.
- Do not remove turtles from their natural habitats.
What Can You Do?
- You can put signs and small barriers around nesting sites and wetlands that are on your property.
- You can contact local programs to help pay for habitat restoration in your area.
- You can add beneficial features to turtle habitat by planting native plants to buffer wetlands and turtle nesting areas. This will attract frogs, snails, insects, and other species that turtles eat.
National Invasive Species Awareness Week
Invasive species (harmful non-native species) are one of the most significant drivers of global change. Consequently, they can have substantial impacts on the economy, infrastructure, and humans. Society must address invasive species as a priority, which is exactly what National Invasive Species Awareness Week intends to do. The objective of National Invasive Species Awareness Week is to bring attention to the impacts, prevention, and management of invasive species – and all those who are working toward healthy, biodiverse ecosystems.
Wetlands provide benefits ranging from water filtration to storm surge protection; however, wetlands have become vulnerable to invasive species. Known as major contributors to wetland and coastal habitat loss, invasive species also threaten native species, including endangered species that rely exclusively on the wetlands for survival. The foreign animals that have been recognized as invasive to coastal wetlands include Asian carp, wild boar, island apple snails, and nutria. Invasive plant species include Chinese tallow, common reed, and purple loosestrife. Invasive animal and plant species have altered the health of wetlands by out-competing native species for food and natural resources, often without any natural predator or control to halt the resulting aggressive spread through an area. CWPPRA strives to protect wetlands by constructing methods to diminish the invasive threat and restore native species’ dominance and health within the wetlands.
For a full list of Invasive species in Louisiana, click here.
CWPPRA continues to raise awareness and identify solutions to protect our wetlands by implementing projects to target invasive wetland species such as the Coastwide Nutria Control Program and Louisiana Salvinia Weevil Propagation Facility.
More than one-third of threatened and endangered species in the United States live only in wetlands, and nearly half use wetlands at some point in their lives. Estuarine and marine fish, shellfish, various birds, and certain mammals must have coastal wetlands to survive.
CWPPRA has protected, created, or restored approximately 95,954 acres of Louisiana’s vanishing coastal wetlands in its first 25 years. Those restored swamps, marshes, and barrier islands/headlands and associated open-water habitats provide foraging, nesting, breeding, wintering, escape cover, and nursery habitat for a myriad of coastal fish and wildlife. Species that benefit include threatened, endangered, at-risk, and rare species, as well as commercially and recreationally valuable species and state and national fish and wildlife trust resources. Habitats restored through CWPPRA have aided in the delisting of our national symbol, the bald eagle, and the Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican, from the endangered species list.
Number of acres CWPPRA projects have benefited for fish and wildlife habitat:
- 25,900 acres – fresh marsh/swamp
- 21,700 acres – intermediate marsh
- 19,000 acres – brackish/saline marsh
- 6,200 acres – barrier islands/headlands
- 15,700 acres – combined coastal habitats
A well-known part of Louisiana’s culture is the state’s unique cuisine and the celebrations and gatherings which surround it. During late winter and spring, Louisiana’s state crustacean, the crawfish, is at the heart of many celebrations. The crawfish, an easily recognizable icon in Louisiana’s rich history and economy, has made an important impact on the state.
The two species of crawfish harvested for commercial use are the Red Crawfish (Procambarus clarki) and White or River Crawfish (Procambarus acutus). While looking very similar, the White Crawfish has one slender and one large pincer and inhabits deeper bodies of water when compared with the Red Crawfish which has two large pincers and is commonly found in bayous, ditches, and swamps. Although the characteristic habitat location varies among the two species, most harvested boil sacks contain both Red and White Crawfish. Both species’ living environments surround wetlands and coastal regions where the aquaculture industry has skyrocketed and continues to thrive.
Crawfish are important to Louisiana’s economy, and more than 7,000 people depend directly or indirectly on the crawfish industry. Crawfish provide an abundance of jobs as they are caught by fishermen, sold, processed, distributed, and shipped, and then finally make their way to customers or onto a restaurant table. Technology has advanced the methods of harvest such that crawfish farming has developed into the largest freshwater crustacean aquaculture industry in the United States. Louisiana leads the nation in crawfish production with nearly 800 commercial fishermen harvesting from wetlands like the Atchafalaya Basin and more than 1,600 farmers harvesting in some 111,000 acres of ponds. The total impact on the Louisiana economy exceeds $300 million annually, with a combined annual yield ranging from 120-150 million pounds.
Eat more crawfish, cher!
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Did you know:
There are about 17,000 known threatened species in the world.
Louisiana’s wetlands are a complex, fragile ecosystem of flora, fauna, and water. The swamps, marshes and bayous of Louisiana represent approximately 40% of all the wetlands in the United States. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, in addition to pollution and other anthropogenic activities threaten the health of Louisiana’s wetlands and its inhabitants. Some of the threatened species in Louisiana include Atlantic Sturgeon, Northern Long-Eared Bat, Piping Plover, Green Sea Turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Red Knot, Louisiana Pearlshell Mussel, Alabama Heelsplitter Mussel, Earth Fruit, Ringed Map Turtle, and Gopher Tortoise. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act has protected, created, or restored 95,806 aces, while also enhanced more than 351,676 acres. CWPPRA plans to continue working to help coastal wetlands and their inhabitants.
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Plants of the wetlands are generally known to be highly dependent upon specific conditions, such as salinity, proximity to water, and vegetation type.
While some plants are able to adapt to condition alterations, other species do not overcome change as well. However, a major threat to all wetland vegetation is hydrilla.
Hydrilla is a non-native, invasive aquatic plant that has staked its claim by out-competing native plants and obstructing waterways. Hydrilla is a submerged, perennial plant that prefers freshwater, but can tolerate up to 7% salinity. This aggressive plant is known for clogging waterways, impeding natural flow, affecting human use such as fishing and seafood harvest, and clogging intakes and municipal drinking water supplies. Hydrilla can take over an area quickly as a result of its ability to multiply rapidly using four different strategies. Regrowth of stem fragments containing at least one node into a new plant, tubers on rhizomes producing new tubers, leaf turions that settle into sediment and form a new plant, and seed dispersal are all methods of reproduction for hydrilla. Hydrilla can out-compete native plants by its ability to tolerate low and high nutrient conditions in addition to growing in low light environments. Hydrilla is also successful in out-competing other plants by growing at a rate of one inch per day until reaching the water’s surface, followed by branching out to form a mat of vegetation which blocks light to other plants.
In order to control the growth of hydrilla, salvinia weevils have been released into severely affected areas. The salvinia weevil lives exclusively on hydrilla as a food source, thus reducing growth rates to allow control of the plant. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act is currently researching the best, most beneficial method of controlling and eradicating invasive plant species.